Open Access Open Badges Research article

Evolution of rhodopsin ion pumps in haloarchaea

Adrian K Sharma1*, David A Walsh1, Eric Bapteste1, Francisco Rodriguez-Valera2, W Ford Doolittle1 and R Thane Papke1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Dalhousie University, 5850 College St., Halifax, Nova Scotia, B3H 1X5, Canada

2 Unidad de Microbiologia, Centro de Biologia Molecular y Celular, Universidad Miguel Hernandez, Campus de San Juan, 03550 San Juan, Alicante, Spain

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2007, 7:79  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-7-79

Published: 18 May 2007



The type 1 (microbial) rhodopsins are a diverse group of photochemically reactive proteins that display a broad yet patchy distribution among the three domains of life. Recent work indicates that this pattern is likely the result of lateral gene transfer (LGT) of rhodopsin genes between major lineages, and even across domain boundaries. Within the lineage in which the microbial rhodopsins were initially discovered, the haloarchaea, a similar patchy distribution is observed. In this initial study, we assess the roles of LGT and gene loss in the evolution of haloarchaeal rhodopsin ion pump genes, using phylogenetics and comparative genomics approaches.


Mapping presence/absence of rhodopsins onto the phylogeny of the RNA polymerase B' subunit (RpoB') of the haloarchaea supports previous notions that rhodopsins are patchily distributed. The phylogeny for the bacteriorhodopsin (BR) protein revealed two discrepancies in comparison to the RpoB' marker, while the halorhodopsin (HR) tree showed incongruence to both markers. Comparative analyses of bacteriorhodopsin-linked regions of five haloarchaeal genomes supported relationships observed in the BR tree, and also identified two open reading frames (ORFs) that were more frequently linked to the bacteriorhodopsin gene than those genes previously shown to be important to the function and expression of BR.


The evidence presented here reveals a complex evolutionary history for the haloarchaeal rhodopsins, with both LGT and gene loss contributing to the patchy distribution of rhodopsins within this group. Similarities between the BR and RpoB' phylogenies provide supportive evidence for the presence of bacteriorhodopsin in the last common ancestor of haloarchaea. Furthermore, two loci that we have designated bacterio-opsin associated chaperone (bac) and bacterio-opsin associated protein (bap) are inferred to have important roles in BR biogenesis based on frequent linkage and co-transfer with bacteriorhodopsin genes.