Biophysical Spandrels form a Hot-Spot for Kosmotropic Mutations in Bacteriophage Thermal Adaptation
Temperature plays a dominating role in protein structure and function, and life has evolved myriad strategies to adapt proteins to environmental thermal stress. Cellular systems can utilize kosmotropic osmolytes, the products of complex biochemical pathways, to act as chemical chaperones. These extrinsic molecules, e.g., trehalose, alter local water structure to modulate the strength of the hydrophobic effect and increase protein stability. In contrast, simpler genetic systems must rely on intrinsic mutation to affect protein stability. In naturally occurring microvirid bacteriophages of the subfamily Bullavirinae, capsid stability is randomly distributed across the phylogeny, suggesting it is not phylogenetically linked and could be altered through adaptive mutation. We hypothesized that these phages could utilize an adaptive mechanism that mimics the stabilizing effects of the kosmotrope trehalose through mutation. Kinetic stability of wild-type ID8, a relative of ΦX174, displays a saturable response to trehalose. Thermal adaptation mutations in ID8 improve capsid stability and reduce responsiveness to trehalose suggesting the mutations move stability closer to the kosmotropic saturation point, mimicking the kosmotropic effect of trehalose. These mutations localize to and modulate the hydrophobicity of a cavern formation at the interface of phage coat and spike proteins—an evolutionary spandrel. Across a series of genetically distinct phages, responsiveness to trehalose correlates positively with cavern hydrophobicity suggesting that the level of hydrophobicity of the cavern may provide a biophysical gating mechanism constraining or permitting adaptation in a lineage-specific manner. Our results demonstrate that a single mutation can exploit pre-existing, non-adaptive structural features to mimic the adaptive effects of complex biochemical pathways.
KeywordsProtein adaptation Evolutionary biophysics Hydrophobic effect Historical contingency Microvirus
Funding for this work was provided by the U.S. National Institutes of Health to D.R.R. (R01 GM-099723).
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