Sequences of the three integral membrane subunits (subunits a, b and c) of the F sector of the proton-translocating F-type (FF-) ATPases of bacteria, chloroplasts and mitochondria have been analysed. All homologous-sequenced proteins of these subunits, comprising three distinct families, have been identified by database searches, and the homologous protein sequences have been aligned and analysed for phylogenetic relatedness. The results serve to define the relationships of the members of each of these three families of proteins, to identify regions of relative conservation, and to define relative rates of evolutionary divergence. Of these three subunits, c-subunits exhibited the slowest rate of evolutionary divergence, b-subunits exhibited the most rapid rate of evolutionary divergence, and a-subunits exhibited an intermediate rate of evolutionary divergence. The results allow definition of the relative times of occurrence of specific events during evolutionary history, such as the intragenic duplication event that gave rise to large c-subunits in eukaryotic vacuolar-type ATPases after eukaryotes diverged from archaea, and the extragenic duplication of F-type ATPase b-subunits that occurred in bluegreen bacteria before the advent of chloroplasts. The results generally show that the three F subunits evolved as a unit from a primordial set of genes without appreciable horizontal transmission of the encoding genetic information although a few possible exceptions were noted.


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