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Comparative genomics of bacterial and plant folate synthesis and salvage: predictions and validations

Valérie de Crécy-Lagard1*, Basma El Yacoubi1, Rocío Díaz de la Garza2, Alexandre Noiriel2 and Andrew D Hanson2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Microbiology and Cell Science, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611, USA

2 Department of Horticultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611, USA

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BMC Genomics 2007, 8:245  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-8-245

Published: 23 July 2007



Folate synthesis and salvage pathways are relatively well known from classical biochemistry and genetics but they have not been subjected to comparative genomic analysis. The availability of genome sequences from hundreds of diverse bacteria, and from Arabidopsis thaliana, enabled such an analysis using the SEED database and its tools. This study reports the results of the analysis and integrates them with new and existing experimental data.


Based on sequence similarity and the clustering, fusion, and phylogenetic distribution of genes, several functional predictions emerged from this analysis. For bacteria, these included the existence of novel GTP cyclohydrolase I and folylpolyglutamate synthase gene families, and of a trifunctional p-aminobenzoate synthesis gene. For plants and bacteria, the predictions comprised the identities of a 'missing' folate synthesis gene (folQ) and of a folate transporter, and the absence from plants of a folate salvage enzyme. Genetic and biochemical tests bore out these predictions.


For bacteria, these results demonstrate that much can be learnt from comparative genomics, even for well-explored primary metabolic pathways. For plants, the findings particularly illustrate the potential for rapid functional assignment of unknown genes that have prokaryotic homologs, by analyzing which genes are associated with the latter. More generally, our data indicate how combined genomic analysis of both plants and prokaryotes can be more powerful than isolated examination of either group alone.