Terrestrialization is one of the most momentous events in the history of plant life, which leads to the subsequent evolution of plant diversity. The transition species, in this process, had to acquire a range of adaptive mechanisms to cope with the harsh features of terrestrial environments compared to that of aquatic habitat. As an ancient antioxidant, a leading regulator of ROS signaling or homeostasis, and a presumed plant master regulator, melatonin likely assisted plants transition to land and their adaption to terrestrial ecosystems. N-acetylserotonin methyltransferases (ASMT) and caffeic acid O-methyltransferases (COMT), both in the O-methyltransferase (OMT) family, catalyze the core O-methylation reaction in melatonin biosynthesis. How these two enzymes with close relevance evolved in plant evolutionary history and whether they participated in plant terrestrialization remains unknown. Using combined phylogenetic evidence and protein structure analysis, it is revealed that COMT likely evolved from ASMT by gene duplication and subsequent divergence. Newly emergent COMT gained a significantly higher ASMT activity to produce greater amounts of melatonin for immobile plants to acclimate to the stressful land environments after evolving from the more environmentally-stable aquatic conditions. The COMT genes possess more conserved substrate-binding sites at the amino acid level and more open protein conformation compared to ASMT, and getting a new function to catalyze the lignin biosynthesis. This development directly contributed to the dominance of vascular plants among the Earth's flora and prompted plant colonization of land. Thus, ASMT, together with its descendant COMT, might play key roles in plant transition to land. The current study provides new insights into plant terrestrialization with gene duplication contributing to this process along with well-known horizontal gene transfer.
- amino acid sequences
- caffeic acid O-methyltransferases (COMT)
- N-acetylserotonin methyltransferases (ASMT)
- protein conformation
ASJC Scopus subject areas