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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Sulfate assimilation in eukaryotes: fusions, relocations and lateral transfers

Nicola J Patron1*, Dion G Durnford2 and Stanislav Kopriva3

Author Affiliations

1 School of Botany, the University of Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia

2 Department of Biology, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, New Brunswick, EB3 5A3, Canada

3 John Innes Centre, Norwich Research Park, Norwich NR4 7UH, UK

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2008, 8:39  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-39

Published: 4 February 2008



The sulfate assimilation pathway is present in photosynthetic organisms, fungi, and many bacteria, providing reduced sulfur for the synthesis of cysteine and methionine and a range of other metabolites. In photosynthetic eukaryotes sulfate is reduced in the plastids whereas in aplastidic eukaryotes the pathway is cytosolic. The only known exception is Euglena gracilis, where the pathway is localized in mitochondria. To obtain an insight into the evolution of the sulfate assimilation pathway in eukaryotes and relationships of the differently compartmentalized isoforms we determined the locations of the pathway in lineages for which this was unknown and performed detailed phylogenetic analyses of three enzymes involved in sulfate reduction: ATP sulfurylase (ATPS), adenosine 5'-phosphosulfate reductase (APR) and sulfite reductase (SiR).


The inheritance of ATPS, APR and the related 3'-phosphoadenosine 5'-phosphosulfate reductase (PAPR) are remarkable, with multiple origins in the lineages that comprise the opisthokonts, different isoforms in chlorophytes and streptophytes, gene fusions with other enzymes of the pathway, evidence a eukaryote to prokaryote lateral gene transfer, changes in substrate specificity and two reversals of cellular location of host- and endosymbiont-originating enzymes. We also found that the ATPS and APR active in the mitochondria of Euglena were inherited from its secondary, green algal plastid.


Our results reveal a complex history for the enzymes of the sulfate assimilation pathway. Whilst they shed light on the origin of some characterised novelties, such as a recently described novel isoform of APR from Bryophytes and the origin of the pathway active in the mitochondria of Euglenids, the many distinct and novel isoforms identified here represent an excellent resource for detailed biochemical studies of the enzyme structure/function relationships.