Open Access Open Badges Research article

Coevolution of amino acid residues in the key photosynthetic enzyme Rubisco

Mingcong Wang124, Maxim V Kapralov3 and Maria Anisimova12*

Author Affiliations

1 Computational Biochemistry Research Group, Department of Computer Science, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zurich, Switzerland

2 Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics (SIB), Switzerland

3 Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

4 Institute of Molecular Life Sciences, University of Zurich, Switzerland

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2011, 11:266  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-266

Published: 23 September 2011



One of the key forces shaping proteins is coevolution of amino acid residues. Knowing which residues coevolve in a particular protein may facilitate our understanding of protein evolution, structure and function, and help to identify substitutions that may lead to desired changes in enzyme kinetics. Rubisco, the most abundant enzyme in biosphere, plays an essential role in the process of carbon fixation through photosynthesis, thus facilitating life on Earth. This makes Rubisco an important model system for studying the dynamics of protein fitness optimization on the evolutionary landscape. In this study we investigated the selective and coevolutionary forces acting on large subunit of land plants Rubisco using Markov models of codon substitution and clustering approaches applied to amino acid substitution histories.


We found that both selection and coevolution shape Rubisco, and that positively selected and coevolving residues have their specifically favored amino acid composition and pairing preference. The mapping of these residues on the known Rubisco tertiary structures showed that the coevolving residues tend to be in closer proximity with each other compared to the background, while positively selected residues tend to be further away from each other. This study also reveals that the residues under positive selection or coevolutionary force are located within functionally important regions and that some residues are targets of both positive selection and coevolution at the same time.


Our results demonstrate that coevolution of residues is common in Rubisco of land plants and that there is an overlap between coevolving and positively selected residues. Knowledge of which Rubisco residues are coevolving and positively selected could be used for further work on structural modeling and identification of substitutions that may be changed in order to improve efficiency of this important enzyme in crops.

Rubisco; coevolution; phylogeny; positive selection