Beneath the surface: evolution of methane activity in the bacterial multicomponent monooxygenases

Craig D. Osborne, Victoria S. Haritos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


The bacterial multicomponent monooxygenase (BMM) family has evolved to oxidise a wide array of hydrocarbon substrates of importance to environmental emissions and biotechnology: foremost amongst these is methane, which requires among the most powerful oxidant in biology to activate. To understand how the BMM evolved methane oxidation activity, we investigated the changes in the enzyme family at different levels: operonic, phylogenetic analysis of the catalytic hydroxylase, subunit or folding factor presence, and sequence-function analysis across the entirety of the BMM phylogeny. Our results show that the BMM evolution of new activities was enabled by incremental increases in oxidative power of the active site, and these occur in multiple branches of the hydroxylase phylogenetic tree. While the hydroxylase primary sequence changes that resulted in increased oxidative power of the enzyme appear to be minor, the principle evolutionary advances enabling methane activity occurred in the other components of the BMM complex and in the recruitment of stability proteins. We propose that enzyme assembly and stabilization factors have independently-evolved multiple times in the BMM family to support enzymes that oxidise increasingly difficult substrates. Herein, we show an important example of evolution of catalytic function where modifications to the active site and substrate accessibility, which are the usual focus of enzyme evolution, are overshadowed by broader scale changes to structural stabilization and non-catalytic unit development. Retracing macroscale changes during enzyme evolution, as demonstrated here, should find ready application to other enzyme systems and in protein design.

Original languageEnglish
Article number106527
Number of pages12
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2019


  • Enzyme evolution
  • Operon structure
  • Sequence-function
  • sMMO
  • Soluble di-iron monooxygenase
  • Stabilizing proteins

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