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The eukaryotic endomembrane system (ES) is served by hundreds of dedicated proteins. Experimental characterization of the ES-associated molecular machinery in several model eukaryotes complemented by a recent progress in phylogenomics and comparative genomics have revealed a conserved complex core of the machinery that appears to have been established before the last eukaryotic common ancestor (LECA). At the same time, modern eukaryotes exhibit a huge variation in the ES resulting from a multitude of evolutionary processes operating along the ever-branching paths from the LECA to its descendants. The most important source of evolutionary novelty in the ES functioning has undoubtedly been gene duplication followed by divergence of the gene copies, responsible not only for the pre-LECA establishment of many multi-paralog families of proteins in the very core of the ES-associated machinery, but also for post-LECA lineage-specific elaborations via family expansions and the origin of novel components. Extreme sequence divergence has obscured actual homologous relationships between potentially many components of the machinery, even between orthologous proteins, as illustrated by the yeast Vps51 subunit of the vesicle tethering complex GARP hypothesized here to be a highly modified ortholog of a conserved eukaryotic family typified by the zebrafish Fat-free (Ffr) protein. A dynamic evolution of many ES-associated proteins, especially those centred around RAB and ARF GTPases, seems to take place at the level of their domain architectures. Finally, reductive evolution and recurrent gene loss are emerging as pervasive factors shaping the ES in all phylogenetic lineages.


Marek Elias. Patterns and processes in the evolution of the eukaryotic endomembrane system. Molecular membrane biology. 2010 Nov;27(8):469-89

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PMID: 21067450

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