Evolutionary Origins of DNA Repair Pathways: Role of Oxygen Catastrophe in the Emergence of DNA Glycosylases

Paulina Prorok, Inga R. Grin, Bakhyt T. Matkarimov, Alexander A. Ishchenko, Jacques Laval, Dmitry O. Zharkov, Murat Saparbaev

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


It was proposed that the last universal common ancestor (LUCA) evolved under high temperatures in an oxygen-free environment, similar to those found in deep-sea vents and on volcanic slopes. Therefore, spontaneous DNA decay, such as base loss and cytosine deamination, was the major factor affecting LUCA's genome integrity. Cosmic radiation due to Earth's weak magnetic field and alkylating metabolic radicals added to these threats. Here, we propose that ancient forms of life had only two distinct repair mechanisms: versatile apurinic/apyrimidinic (AP) endonucleases to cope with both AP sites and deaminated residues, and enzymes catalyzing the direct reversal of UV and alkylation damage. The absence of uracil-DNA N-glycosylases in some Archaea, together with the presence of an AP endonuclease, which can cleave uracil-containing DNA, suggests that the AP endonuclease-initiated nucleotide incision repair (NIR) pathway evolved independently from DNA glycosylase-mediated base excision repair. NIR may be a relic that appeared in an early thermophilic ancestor to counteract spontaneous DNA damage. We hypothesize that a rise in the oxygen level in the Earth's atmosphere ~2 Ga triggered the narrow specialization of AP endonucleases and DNA glycosylases to cope efficiently with a widened array of oxidative base damage and complex DNA lesions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1591
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021


  • AP endonucleases
  • DNA glycosylases
  • DNA repair
  • protein folds
  • structural homology




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