Multiple horizontal gene transfers of ammonium transporters/ammonia permeases from prokaryotes to eukaryotes: toward a new functional and evolutionary classification.
The proteins of the ammonium transporter/methylammonium permease/Rhesus factor family (AMT/MEP/Rh family) are responsible for the movement of ammonia or ammonium ions across the cell membrane. Although it has been established that the Rh proteins are distantly related to the other members of the family, the evolutionary history of the AMT/MEP/Rh family remains unclear. Here, we use phylogenetic analysis to infer the evolutionary history of this family of proteins across 191 genomes representing all main lineages of life and to provide a new classification of the proteins in this family. Our phylogenetic analysis suggests that what has heretofore been conceived of as a protein family with two clades (AMT/MEP and Rh) is instead a protein family with three clades (AMT, MEP, and Rh). We show that the AMT/MEP/Rh family illustrates two contrasting modes of gene transmission: The AMT family as defined here exhibits vertical gene transfer (i.e., standard parent-to-offspring inheritance), whereas the MEP family as defined here is characterized by several ancient independent horizontal gene transfers (HGTs). These ancient HGT events include a gene replacement during the early evolution of the fungi, which could be a defining trait for the kingdom Fungi, a gene gain from hyperthermophilic chemoautolithotrophic prokaryotes during the early evolution of land plants (Embryophyta), and an independent gain of this same gene in the filamentous ascomycetes (Pezizomycotina) that was subsequently lost in most lineages but retained in even distantly related lichenized fungi. This recircumscription of the ammonium transporters/ammonia permeases family into MEP and AMT families informs the debate on the mechanism of transport in these proteins and on the nature of the transported molecule because published crystal structures of proteins from the MEP and Rh clades may not be representative of the AMT clade. The clades as depicted in this phylogenetic study appear to correspond to functionally different groups, with AMTs and ammonia permeases forming two distinct and possibly monophyletic groups.
McDonald, TR; Dietrich, FS; Lutzoni, F
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