Since the emergence of the last common ancestor from which all extant life evolved, the metabolite repertoire of cells has increased and diversified. Not only has the metabolite cosmos expanded, but the ways in which the same metabolites are made have diversified. Enzymes catalyzing the same reaction have evolved independently from different protein folds; the same protein fold can produce enzymes recognizing different substrates, and enzymes performing different chemistries. Genes encoding useful enzymes can be transferred between organisms and even between the major domains of life. Organisms that live in metabolite-rich environments sometimes lose the pathways that produce those same metabolites. Fusion of different protein domains results in enzymes with novel properties. This review will consider the major evolutionary mechanisms that generate biosynthetic diversity: gene duplication (and gene loss), horizontal and endosymbiotic gene transfer, and gene fusion. It will also discuss mechanisms that lead to convergence as well as divergence. To illustrate these mechanisms, one of the original metabolisms present in the last universal common ancestor will be employed: polyamine metabolism, which is essential for the growth and cell proliferation of archaea and eukaryotes, and many bacteria.

You do not currently have access to this content.