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Key amino acid residues conferring enhanced enzyme activity at cold temperatures in an Antarctic polyextremophilic β-galactosidase

  1. Shiladitya DasSarmaa,1
  1. aInstitute of Marine and Environmental Technology, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD 21202
  1. Edited by Frederick M. Ausubel, Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, and approved October 10, 2017 (received for review July 21, 2017)


Combining comparative genomics, mutagenesis, kinetic analysis, and molecular modeling provides a powerful way to explore and understand the structure and function of proteins under extreme and potentially astrobiological conditions. Alignment of closely related cold-active and mesophilic β-galactosidase enzymes from halophilic Archaea, followed by mutagenesis and kinetic analysis, demonstrates the importance of specific amino acid residues in temperature-dependent catalytic activity, while molecular modeling provides a structural framework for their mechanism of action. Such an interdisciplinary approach shows how a very small fraction of conserved residues that are divergent from mesophilic homologs are key to enhancing catalytic activity at cold temperatures and underscores the power of combining genomics and genetics with biochemistry and structural biology for understanding polyextremophilic enzyme function.


The Antarctic microorganism Halorubrum lacusprofundi harbors a model polyextremophilic β-galactosidase that functions in cold, hypersaline conditions. Six amino acid residues potentially important for cold activity were identified by comparative genomics and substituted with evolutionarily conserved residues (N251D, A263S, I299L, F387L, I476V, and V482L) in closely related homologs from mesophilic haloarchaea. Using a homology model, four residues (N251, A263, I299, and F387) were located in the TIM barrel around the active site in domain A, and two residues (I476 and V482) were within coiled or β-sheet regions in domain B distant to the active site. Site-directed mutagenesis was performed by partial gene synthesis, and enzymes were overproduced from the cold-inducible cspD2 promoter in the genetically tractable Haloarchaeon, Halobacterium sp. NRC-1. Purified enzymes were characterized by steady-state kinetic analysis at temperatures from 0 to 25 °C using the chromogenic substrate o-nitrophenyl-β-galactoside. All substitutions resulted in altered temperature activity profiles compared with wild type, with five of the six clearly exhibiting reduced catalytic efficiency (kcat/Km) at colder temperatures and/or higher efficiency at warmer temperatures. These results could be accounted for by temperature-dependent changes in both Km and kcat (three substitutions) or either Km or kcat (one substitution each). The effects were correlated with perturbation of charge, hydrogen bonding, or packing, likely affecting the temperature-dependent flexibility and function of the enzyme. Our interdisciplinary approach, incorporating comparative genomics, mutagenesis, enzyme kinetics, and modeling, has shown that divergence of a very small number of amino acid residues can account for the cold temperature function of a polyextremophilic enzyme.


  • ?1To whom correspondence should be addressed. Email: sdassarma{at}som.umaryland.edu.
  • Author contributions: S.D. designed research; V.J.L., R.K., J.-M.K., and W.T.P. performed research; V.J.L., P.D., and S.D. analyzed data; and V.J.L., P.D., and S.D. wrote the paper.

  • The authors declare no conflict of interest.

  • This article is a PNAS Direct Submission.

  • This article contains supporting information online at www.danielhellerman.com/lookup/suppl/doi:10.1073/pnas.1711542114/-/DCSupplemental.

Published under the PNAS license.

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