Posted On : 02-07-2018
Glycoside hydrolases of the GH9 family encode cellulases that predominantly function as endoglucanases and have wide applications in the food, paper, pharmaceutical, and biofuel industries. The partitioning of plant GH9 endoglucanases, into classes A, B, and C, is based on the differential presence of transmembrane, signal peptide, and the carbohydrate binding module (CBM49). There is considerable debate on the distribution and the functions of these enzymes which may vary in different organisms. In light of these findings we examined the origin, emergence, and subsequent divergence of plant GH9 endoglucanases, with an emphasis on elucidating the role of CBM49 in the digestion of crystalline cellulose by class C members.
Since, the digestion of crystalline cellulose mandates the presence of a well-defined set of aromatic and polar amino acids and/or an attributable domain that can mediate this conversion, we hypothesize a vertical mode of transfer of genes that could favour the emergence of class C like GH9 endoglucanase activity in land plants from potentially ancestral non plant taxa. We demonstrated the concomitant occurrence of a GH9 domain with CBM49 and other homologous carbohydrate binding modules, in putative endoglucanase sequences from several non-plant taxa. In the absence of comparable full length CBMs, we have characterized several low strength patterns that could approximate the CBM49, thereby, extending support for digestion of crystalline cellulose to other segments of the protein. We also provide data suggestive of the ancestral role of putative class C GH9 endoglucanases in land plants, which includes detailed phylogenetics and the presence and subsequent loss of CBM49, transmembrane, and signal peptide regions in certain populations of early land plants. These findings suggest that classes A and B of modern vascular land plants may have emerged by diverging directly from CBM49 encompassing putative class C enzymes.
Our detailed phylogenetic and bioinformatics analysis of putative GH9 endoglucanase sequences across major taxa suggests that plant class C enzymes, despite their recent discovery, could function as the last common ancestor of classes A and B. Additionally, research into their ability to digest or inter-convert crystalline and amorphous forms of cellulose could make them lucrative candidates for engineering biofuel feedstock.