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Ancient Systems of Sodium/Potassium Homeostasis as Predecessors of Membrane Bioenergetics

D. V. Dibrova1, M. Y. Galperin2, E. V. Koonin2, and A. Y. Mulkidjanian1,3,4*

1Belozersky Institute of Physico-Chemical Biology, Lomonosov Moscow State University, 119992 Moscow, Russia

2National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20894, USA

3School of Physics, Osnabrueck University, 49069 Osnabrueck, Germany; E-mail: amulkid@uos.de

4School of Bioengineering and Bioinformatics, Lomonosov Moscow State University, 119992 Moscow, Russia

* To whom correspondence should be addressed.

Received December 22, 2014; Revision received January 26, 2015
Cell cytoplasm of archaea, bacteria, and eukaryotes contains substantially more potassium than sodium, and potassium cations are specifically required for many key cellular processes, including protein synthesis. This distinct ionic composition and requirements have been attributed to the emergence of the first cells in potassium-rich habitats. Different, albeit complementary, scenarios have been proposed for the primordial potassium-rich environments based on experimental data and theoretical considerations. Specifically, building on the observation that potassium prevails over sodium in the vapor of inland geothermal systems, we have argued that the first cells could emerge in the pools and puddles at the periphery of primordial anoxic geothermal fields, where the elementary composition of the condensed vapor would resemble the internal milieu of modern cells. Marine and freshwater environments generally contain more sodium than potassium. Therefore, to invade such environments, while maintaining excess of potassium over sodium in the cytoplasm, primordial cells needed means to extrude sodium ions. The foray into new, sodium-rich habitats was the likely driving force behind the evolution of diverse redox-, light-, chemically-, or osmotically-dependent sodium export pumps and the increase of membrane tightness. Here we present a scenario that details how the interplay between several, initially independent sodium pumps might have triggered the evolution of sodium-dependent membrane bioenergetics, followed by the separate emergence of the proton-dependent bioenergetics in archaea and bacteria. We also discuss the development of systems that utilize the sodium/potassium gradient across the cell membranes.
KEY WORDS: ATP synthase, sodium-motive force, proton-motive force, sodium symporter, membrane efflux pumps, abiogenesis, anoxic geothermal fields

DOI: 10.1134/S0006297915050016