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Physical linkage of metabolic genes in fungi is an adaptation against the accumulation of toxic intermediate compounds

McGary, Kriston L., Slot, Jason C., Rokas, Antonis
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2013 v.110 no.28 pp. 11481-11486
biochemical pathways, chromosomes, fungi, gene expression, genes, humans, metabolic diseases, phenotype, toxicity
Genomic analyses have proliferated without being tied to tangible phenotypes. For example, although coordination of both gene expression and genetic linkage have been offered as genetic mechanisms for the frequently observed clustering of genes participating in fungal metabolic pathways, elucidation of the phenotype(s) favored by selection, resulting in cluster formation and maintenance, has not been forthcoming. We noted that the cause of certain well-studied human metabolic disorders is the accumulation of toxic intermediate compounds (ICs), which occurs when the product of an enzyme is not used as a substrate by a downstream neighbor in the metabolic network. This raises the hypothesis that the phenotype favored by selection to drive gene clustering is the mitigation of IC toxicity. To test this, we examined 100 diverse fungal genomes for the simplest type of cluster, gene pairs that are both metabolic neighbors and chromosomal neighbors immediately adjacent to each other, which we refer to as “double neighbor gene pairs” (DNGPs). Examination of the toxicity of their corresponding ICs shows that, compared with chromosomally nonadjacent metabolic neighbors, DNGPs are enriched for ICs that have acutely toxic LD ₅₀ doses or reactive functional groups. Furthermore, DNGPs are significantly more likely to be divergently oriented on the chromosome; remarkably, ∼40% of these DNGPs have ICs known to be toxic. We submit that the structure of synteny in metabolic pathways of fungi is a signature of selection for protection against the accumulation of toxic metabolic intermediates.