Nature's inordinate fondness for metabolic enzymes: Why metabolic enzyme loci are so frequently targets of selection

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Metabolic enzyme loci were some of the first genes accessible for molecular evolution and ecology research. New technologies now make the whole genome, transcriptome or proteome readily accessible, allowing unbiased scans for loci exhibiting significant differences in allele frequency or expression level and associated with phenotypes and/or responses to natural selection. With surprising frequency and in many cases in proportions greater than chance relative to other genes, glycolysis and TCA cycle enzyme loci appear among the genes with significant associations in these studies. Hence, there is an ongoing need to understand the basis for fitness effects of metabolic enzyme polymorphisms. Allele-specific effects on the binding affinity and catalytic rate of individual enzymes are well known, but often of uncertain significance because metabolic control theory and in vivo studies indicate that many individual metabolic enzymes do not affect pathway flux rate. I review research, so far little used in evolutionary biology, showing that metabolic enzyme substrates affect signalling pathways that regulate cell and organismal biology, and that these enzymes have moonlighting functions. To date there is little knowledge of how alleles in natural populations affect these phenotypes. I discuss an example in which alleles of a TCA enzyme locus associate with differences in a signalling pathway and development, organismal performance, and ecological dynamics. Ultimately, understanding how metabolic enzyme polymorphisms map to phenotypes and fitness remains a compelling and ongoing need for gaining robust knowledge of ecological and evolutionary processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5743-5764
Number of pages22
JournalMolecular ecology
Issue number23
StatePublished - Dec 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


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