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A phylogenetically diverse class of blind type 1 opsins

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Opsins are photosensitive proteins catalyzing light-dependent processes across the tree of life. For both microbial (type 1) and metazoan (type 2) opsins, photosensing depends upon covalent interaction between a retinal chromophore and a conserved lysine residue. Despite recent discoveries of potential opsin homologs lacking this residue, phylogenetic dispersal and functional significance of these abnormal sequences have not yet been investigated. We report discovery of a large group of putatively non-retinal binding opsins, present in a number of fungal and microbial genomes and comprising nearly 30% of opsins in the Halobacteriacea, a model clade for opsin photobiology. Based on phylogenetic analyses, structural modeling, genomic context and biochemistry, we propose that these abnormal opsin homologs represent a novel family of sensory opsins which may be involved in taxis response to one or more non-light stimuli. This finding challenges current understanding of microbial opsins as a light-specific sensory family, and provides a potential analogy with the highly diverse signaling capabilities of the eukaryotic G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs), of which metazoan type 2 opsins are a light-specific sub-clade.

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