Plant terpene synthases constitute a group of evolutionarily related enzymes. Within this group, however, enzymes that employ two different catalytic mechanisms, and their associated unique domains, are known. We investigated the structure of the gene encoding linalool synthase (LIS), an enzyme that uses geranyl pyrophosphate as a substrate and catalyzes the formation of linalool, an acyclic monoterpene found in the floral scents of many plants. Although LIS employs one catalytic mechanism (exemplified by limonene synthase [LMS]), it has sequence motifs indicative of both LMS-type synthases and the terpene synthases employing a different mechanism (exemplified by copalyl diphosphate synthase [CPS]). Here, we report that LIS genes analyzed from several species encode proteins that have overall 40%-96% identity to each other and have 11 introns in identical positions. Only the region encoding roughly the last half of the LIS gene (exons 9-12) has a gene structure similar to that of the LMS-type genes. On the other hand, in the first part of the LIS gene (exons 1-8), LIS gene structure is essentially identical to that found in the first half of the gene encoding CPS. In addition, the level of similarity in the coding information of this region between the LIS and CPS genes is also significant, whereas the second half of the LIS protein is most similar to LMS-type synthases. Thus, LIS appears to be a composite gene which might have evolved from a recombination event between two different types of terpene synthases. The combined evolutionary mechanisms of duplication followed by divergence and/or "domain swapping" may explain the extraordinarily large diversity of proteins found in the plant terpene synthase family.
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