Recreating a functional ancestral archosaur visual pigment

TitleRecreating a functional ancestral archosaur visual pigment
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2002
AuthorsChang BSW, Jönsson K, Kazmi MA, Donoghue MJ, Sakmar TP
JournalMolecular Biology and Evolution
Date Published2002 Sep
KeywordsAmino Acid Sequence, Animals, Base Sequence, Cattle, Cell Line, Codon, Dinosaurs, Evolution, Likelihood Functions, Molecular, Molecular Sequence Data, phylogeny, Protein Binding, Protein Conformation, Reptiles, Retinaldehyde, Rhodopsin, Spectrophotometry, Transducin, Ultraviolet

The ancestors of the archosaurs, a major branch of the diapsid reptiles, originated more than 240 MYA near the dawn of the Triassic Period. We used maximum likelihood phylogenetic ancestral reconstruction methods and explored different models of evolution for inferring the amino acid sequence of a putative ancestral archosaur visual pigment. Three different types of maximum likelihood models were used: nucleotide-based, amino acid-based, and codon-based models. Where possible, within each type of model, likelihood ratio tests were used to determine which model best fit the data. Ancestral reconstructions of the ancestral archosaur node using the best-fitting models of each type were found to be in agreement, except for three amino acid residues at which one reconstruction differed from the other two. To determine if these ancestral pigments would be functionally active, the corresponding genes were chemically synthesized and then expressed in a mammalian cell line in tissue culture. The expressed artificial genes were all found to bind to 11-cis-retinal to yield stable photoactive pigments with lambda(max) values of about 508 nm, which is slightly redshifted relative to that of extant vertebrate pigments. The ancestral archosaur pigments also activated the retinal G protein transducin, as measured in a fluorescence assay. Our results show that ancestral genes from ancient organisms can be reconstructed de novo and tested for function using a combination of phylogenetic and biochemical methods.