We explore sequence determinants of enzyme activity and specificity in a major enzyme family of terpene synthases. Most enzymes in this family catalyze reactions that produce cyclic terpenes—complex hydrocarbons widely used by plants and insects in diverse biological processes such as defense, communication, and symbiosis. To analyze the molecular mechanisms of emergence of terpene cyclization, we have carried out in-depth examination of mutational space around (E)-β-farnesene synthase, an Artemisia annua enzyme which catalyzes production of a linear hydrocarbon chain. Each mutant enzyme in our synthetic libraries was characterized biochemically, and the resulting reaction rate data were used as input to the Michaelis–Menten model of enzyme kinetics, in which free energies were represented as sums of one-amino-acid contributions and two-amino-acid couplings. Our model predicts measured reaction rates with high accuracy and yields free energy landscapes characterized by relatively few coupling terms. As a result, the Michaelis–Menten free energy landscapes have simple, interpretable structure and exhibit little epistasis. We have also developed biophysical fitness models based on the assumption that highly fit enzymes have evolved to maximize the output of correct products, such as cyclic products or a specific product of interest, while minimizing the output of byproducts. This approach results in nonlinear fitness landscapes that are considerably more epistatic. Overall, our experimental and computational framework provides focused characterization of evolutionary emergence of novel enzymatic functions in the context of microevolutionary exploration of sequence space around naturally occurring enzymes.
Viral proteins evade host immune function by molecular mimicry, often achieved by short linear motifs (SLiMs) of three to ten consecutive amino acids (AAs). Motif mimicry tolerates mutations, evolves quickly to modify interactions with the host, and enables modular interactions with protein complexes. Host cells cannot easily coordinate changes to conserved motif recognition and binding interfaces under selective pressure to maintain critical signaling pathways. SLiMs offer potential for use in synthetic biology, such as better immunogens and therapies, but may also present biosecurity challenges. We survey viral uses of SLiMs to mimic host proteins, and information resources available for motif discovery. As the number of examples continues to grow, knowledge management tools are essential to help organize and compare new findings.
Interpreting changes in metabolite abundance in response to experimental treatments or disease states remains a major challenge in metabolomics. Pathway Covering is a new algorithm that takes a list of metabolites (compounds) and determines a minimum-cost set of metabolic pathways in an organism that includes (covers) all the metabolites in the list. We used five functions for assigning costs to pathways, including assigning a constant for all pathways, which yields a solution with the smallest pathway count; two methods that penalize large pathways; one that prefers pathways based on the pathway’s assigned function, and one that loosely corresponds to metabolic flux. The pathway covering set computed by the algorithm can be displayed as a multi-pathway diagram (“pathway collage”) that highlights the covered metabolites. We investigated the pathway covering algorithm by using several datasets from the Metabolomics Workbench. The algorithm is best applied to a list of metabolites with significant statistics and fold-changes with a specified direction of change for each metabolite. The pathway covering algorithm is now available within the Pathway Tools software and BioCyc website.
The Omics Dashboard is a software tool for interactive exploration and analysis of gene-expression datasets. The Omics Dashboard is organized as a hierarchy of cellular systems. At the highest level of the hierarchy the Dashboard contains graphical panels depicting systems such as biosynthesis, energy metabolism, regulation and central dogma. Each of those panels contains a series of X–Y plots depicting expression levels of subsystems of that panel, e.g. subsystems within the central dogma panel include transcription, translation and protein maturation and folding. The Dashboard presents a visual read-out of the expression status of cellular systems to facilitate a rapid top-down user survey of how all cellular systems are responding to a given stimulus, and to enable the user to quickly view the responses of genes within specific systems of interest. Although the Dashboard is complementary to traditional statistical methods for analysis of gene-expression data, we show how it can detect changes in gene expression that statistical techniques may overlook. We present the capabilities of the Dashboard using two case studies: the analysis of lipid production for the marine alga Thalassiosira pseudonana, and an investigation of a shift from anaerobic to aerobic growth for the bacterium Escherichia coli.
We define software for constructing personalized multi-pathway diagrams called pathway-collages using a combination of manual and automatic layouts.
The emergence of terpene cyclization was critical to the evolutionary expansion of chemical diversity yet remains unexplored. Here we report the first discovery of an epistatic network of residues that controls the onset of terpene cyclization in Artemisia annua. We begin with amorpha-4,11-diene synthase (ADS) and ( E)-β-farnesene synthase (BFS), a pair of terpene synthases that produce cyclic or linear terpenes, respectively. A library of ~27,000 enzymes is generated by breeding combinations of natural amino-acid substitutions from the cyclic into the linear producer. We discover one dominant mutation is sufficient to activate cyclization, and together with two additional residues comprise a network of strongly epistatic interactions that activate, suppress or reactivate cyclization. Remarkably, this epistatic network of equivalent residues also controls cyclization in a BFS homologue from Citrus junos. Fitness landscape analysis of mutational trajectories provides quantitative insights into a major epoch in specialized metabolism.