The MutS protein of Escherichia coli plays a key role in the recognition and repair of errors made during the replication of DNA. Homologs of MutS have been found in many species including eukaryotes, Archaea and other bacteria, and together these proteins have been grouped into the MutS family. Although many of these proteins have similar activities to the E.coli MutS, there is significant diversity of function among the MutS family members. This diversity is even seen within species; many species encode multiple MutS homologs with distinct functions. To better characterize the MutS protein family, I have used a combination of phylogenetic reconstructions and analysis of complete genome sequences. This phylogenomic analysis is used to infer the evolutionary relationships among the MutS family members and to divide the family into subfamilies of orthologs. Analysis of the distribution of these orthologs in particular species and examination of the relationships within and between subfamilies is used to identify likely evolutionary events (e.g. gene duplications, lateral transfer and gene loss) in the history of the MutS family. In particular, evidence is presented that a gene duplication early in the evolution of life resulted in two main MutS lineages, one including proteins known to function in mismatch repair and the other including proteins known to function in chromosome segregation and crossing-over. The inferred evolutionary history of the MutS family is used to make predictions about some of the uncharacterized genes and species included in the analysis. For example, since function is generally conserved within subfamilies and lineages, it is proposed that the function of uncharacterized proteins can be predicted by their position in the MutS family tree. The uses of phylogenomic approaches to the study of genes and genomes are discussed.
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