Nucleotide-diphospho-sugars (NDP-sugars) are the building blocks of diverse polysaccharides and glycoconjugates in all organisms. In plants, 11 families of NDP-sugar interconversion enzymes (NSEs) have been identified, each of which interconverts one NDP-sugar to another. While the functions of these enzyme families have been characterized in various plants, very little is known about their evolution and origin. Our phylogenetic analyses indicate that all the 11 plant NSE families are distantly related and most of them originated from different progenitor genes, which have already diverged in ancient prokaryotes. For instance, all NSE families are found in the lower land plant mosses and most of them are also found in aquatic algae, implicating that they have already evolved to be capable of synthesizing all the 11 different NDP-sugars. Particularly interesting is that the evolution of RHM (UDP-L-rhamnose synthase) manifests the fusion of genes of three enzymatic activities in early eukaryotes in a rather intriguing manner. The plant NRS/ER (nucleotide-rhamnose synthase/epimerase-reductase), on the other hand, evolved much later from the ancient plant RHMs through losing the N-terminal domain. Based on these findings, an evolutionary model is proposed to explain the origin and evolution of different NSE families. For instance, the UGlcAE (UDP-D-glucuronic acid 4-epimerase) family is suggested to have evolved from some chlamydial bacteria. Our data also show considerably higher sequence diversity among NSE-like genes in modern prokaryotes, consistent with the higher sugar diversity found in prokaryotes. All the NSE families are widely found in plants and algae containing carbohydrate-rich cell walls, while sporadically found in animals, fungi and other eukaryotes, which do not have or have cell walls with distinct compositions. Results of this study were shown to be highly useful for identifying unknown genes for further experimental characterization to determine their functions in the synthesis of diverse glycosylated molecules. © 2011 Yin et al.
Yin, Y., Huang, J., Gu, X., Bar-Peled, M., & Xu, Y. (2011). Evolution of plant nucleotide-sugar interconversion enzymes. PLoS ONE, 6(11). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0027995