Comparative Genomics of the Microbial Chemotaxis System
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This research project presents a comprehensive functional analysis of a complex prokaryotic signal transduction system and the mechanisms underlying its evolution. The chemotaxis system regulates motility in prokaryotes and is their most complex signal transduction system. The system has been extensively characterized experimentally, but recent studies have created new questions about the function and origin of this system. Comparative genomics analyses are well-suited for studying the chemotaxis system since it is present in taxonomically diverse organisms. The first aim of this project is to understand the evolutionary history of the chemotaxis system that has resulted in the diversity of chemotaxis systems that have been experimentally. The results reveal three functional families of chemotaxis systems that regulate flagellar motility, type IV pili motility, and non-motility outputs. The flagellar family shows extensive diversity with 10 conserved classes that have variable accessory proteins, and these classes show a co-evolutionary relationship with flagella. The second aim of this project is to analyze the molecular evolution of chemotaxis system components and utilize that information to predict the contact sites involved in protein-protein interactions. The analysis supports that there is evolutionary pressure at the amino acid sequence level to maintain protein-protein interactions. From this observation, a method to predict the contact sites of protein-protein interactions from sequence information alone was developed and validated by experimental and structural information.