How enzyme promiscuity and horizontal gene transfer contribute to metabolic innovation Academic Article uri icon


  • Promiscuity is the coincidental ability of an enzyme to catalyze its native reaction and additional reactions that are not biological functions in the same active site. Promiscuity plays a central role in enzyme evolution and is thus a useful property for protein and metabolic engineering. This review examines enzyme evolution holistically, beginning with evaluating biochemical support for four enzyme evolution models. As expected, there is strong biochemical support for the subfunctionalization and innovation-amplification-divergence models, in which promiscuity is a central feature. In many cases, however, enzyme evolution is more complex than the models indicate, suggesting much is yet to be learned about selective pressures on enzyme function. A complete understanding of enzyme evolution must also explain the ability of metabolic networks to integrate new enzyme activities. Hidden within metabolic networks are underground metabolic pathways constructed from promiscuous activities. We discuss efforts to determine the diversity and pervasiveness of underground metabolism. Remarkably, several studies have discovered that some metabolic defects can be repaired via multiple underground routes. In prokaryotes, metabolic innovation is driven by connecting enzymes acquired by horizontal gene transfer (HGT) into the metabolic network. Thus, we end the review by discussing how the combination of promiscuity and HGT contribute to evolution of metabolism in prokaryotes. Future studies investigating the contribution of promiscuity to enzyme and metabolic evolution will need to integrate deeper probes into the influence of evolution on protein biophysics, enzymology, and metabolism with more complex and realistic evolutionary models. ENZYMES: lactate dehydrogenase (EC, malate dehydrogenase (EC, OSBS (EC, HisA (EC, TrpF, PriA (EC, R-mandelonitrile lyase (EC, Maleylacetate reductase (EC

altmetric score

  • 4

author list (cited authors)

  • Glasner, M. E., Truong, D. P., & Morse, B. C.

citation count

  • 5

complete list of authors

  • Glasner, Margaret E||Truong, Dat P||Morse, Benjamin C

publication date

  • April 2020