The evolution of compositionally and functionally distinct actin filaments

Peter W. Gunning, Umesh Ghoshdastider, Shane Whitaker, David Popp, Robert C. Robinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

223 Citations (Scopus)


The actin filament is astonishingly well conserved across a diverse set of eukaryotic species. It has essentially remained unchanged in the billion years that separate yeast, Arabidopsis and man. In contrast, bacterial actin-like proteins have diverged to the extreme, and many of them are not readily identified from sequence-based homology searches. Here, we present phylogenetic analyses that point to an evolutionary drive to diversify actin filament composition across kingdoms. Bacteria use a one-filament-one-function system to create distinct filament systems within a single cell. In contrast, eukaryotic actin is a universal force provider in a wide range of processes. In plants, there has been an expansion of the number of closely related actin genes, whereas in fungi and metazoa diversification in tropomyosins has increased the compositional variety in actin filament systems. Both mechanisms dictate the subset of actin-binding proteins that interact with each filament type, leading to specialization in function. In this Hypothesis, we thus propose that different mechanisms were selected in bacteria, plants and metazoa, which achieved actin filament compositional variation leading to the expansion of their functional diversity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2009-2019
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of cell science
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Actin
  • Evolution
  • Filament
  • Tropomyosin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology


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