The evolution of RuBisCO stability at the thermal limit of photoautotrophy

Scott R. Miller, Michele A. McGuirl, Darla Carvey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


A long-standing question in evolutionary biology is how organisms adapt to novel environments. In North American hot springs, diversification of a clade of the cyanobacterium Synechococcus into hotter environments has resulted in the unique innovation of a light-driven ecosystem at temperatures up to 74°C, and temperature adaptation of photosynthetic carbon fixation with the Calvin cycle contributed to this process. Here, we investigated the evolution of thermostability of the Calvin cycle enzyme ribulose-1, 5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (RuBisCO) during Synechococcus divergence. Circular dichroism thermal scans revealed that the RuBisCO of the most thermotolerant Synechococcus lineage is more stable than those of other lineages or of resurrected ancestral enzymes. Using site-directed mutagenesis, we next identified four amino acid substitutions that together increased stability and activity of this enzyme at higher temperatures. These are clustered near critical subunit interfaces distant from the active site. Each of the four amino acids is also observed in a less thermostable Synechococcus RuBisCO, and the impact on stability of three of these appears to be epistatic. Recombination analyses that allow for recurrent mutation as well as patterns of synonymous variation surrounding these sites suggest that the evolution of a more thermostable RuBisCO may have involved homologous recombination. Our results provide insights on the molecular evolutionary processes that shape niche differentiation and ecosystem function.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)752-760
Number of pages9
JournalMolecular Biology and Evolution
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2013


  • adaptation
  • functional synthesis
  • niche extension
  • thermostability


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