One gene-one enzyme hypothesis: Wikis


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The one gene-one enzyme hypothesis is the idea that genes act through the production of enzymes, with each gene responsible for producing a single enzyme that in turn effects a single step in a metabolic pathway. The concept was proposed by George Beadle and Edward Tatum in an influential 1941 paper[1] on genetic mutations in the mold Neurospora crassa, and subsequently was dubbed the "one gene-one enzyme hypothesis" by their collaborator Norman Horowitz.[2] It is often considered the first significant result in what came to be called molecular biology.[3] Although it has been extremely influential, the hypothesis was recognized soon after its proposal to be an oversimplification. Even the subsequent reformulation of the "one gene-one polypeptide" hypothesis is now considered too simple to describe the relationship between genes and proteins.[4]



Although some instances of errors in metabolism following Mendelian inheritance patterns were known earlier, beginning with the 1902 identification by Archibald Garrod of alkaptonuria as a Mendelian recessive trait, for the most part genetics could not be applied to metabolism through the late 1930s. Another of the exceptions was the work of Boris Ephrussi and George Beadle, two geneticists working on the eye color pigments of Drosophila melanogaster fruit flies in the Caltech laboratory of Thomas Hunt Morgan. In the mid 1930s they found that genes affecting eye color appeared to be serially dependent, and that the normal red eyes of Drosophila were the result of pigments that went through a series of transformations; different eye color gene mutations disrupted the transformations at a different points in the series. Thus, Beadle reasoned that each gene was responsible for an enzyme acting in the metabolic pathway of pigment synthesis. However, because it was a relatively superficial pathway rather than one shared widely by diverse organisms, little was known about the biochemical details of fruit fly eye pigment metabolism. Studying that pathway in more detail required isolating pigments from the eyes of flies, an extremely tedious process.[5]

After moving to Stanford University in 1937, Beadle began working with biochemist Edward Tatum to isolate the fly eye pigments. After some success with this approach—they identified one of the intermediate pigments shortly after another researcher, Adolf Butenandt, beat them to the discovery—Beadle and Tatum switched their focus to an organism that made genetic studies of biochemical traits much easier: the bread mold Neurospora crassa, which had recently been subjected to genetic research by one of Thomas Hunt Morgan's researchers, Carl C. Lingegren. Neurospora had several advantages: it required a simple growth medium, it grew quickly, and because of the production of ascospores during reproduction it was easy to isolate genetic mutants for analysis. They produced mutations by exposing the fungus to X-rays, and then identified strains that had metabolic defects by varying the growth medium; if the synthesis of a particular nutrient (such as an amino acid or vitamin) was disrupted by mutation, that mutant strain could be grown by adding the necessary nutrient to the medium. Following their first report of three such auxotroph mutants in 1941, Beadle and Tatum used this method to create series of related mutants and determined the order in which amino acids and some other metabolites were synthesized in several metabolic pathways.[6]

The nutritional mutants of Neurospora also proved to have practical applications; in one of the early, if indirect, examples of military funding of science in the biological sciences, Beadle garnered additional research funding (from the Rockefeller Foundation and an association of manufacturers of military rations) to develop strains that could be used to assay the nutrient content of foodstuffs, to ensure adequate nutrition for troops in World War II.[7]

The hypothesis and alternative interpretations

In their first Neurospora paper, published in the November 15, 1941, edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Beadle and Tatum noted that it was "entirely tenable to suppose that these genes which are themselves a part of the system, control or regulate specific reactions in the system either by acting directly as enzymes or by determining the specificities of enzymes", an idea that had been suggested, though with limited experimental support, as early as 1917; they offered new evidence to support that view, and outlined a research program that would enable it to be explored more fully.[1] By 1945, Beadle, Tatum and others, working with Neurospora and other model organisms such as E. coli, had produced considerable experimental evidence that each step in a metabolic pathway is controlled by a single gene. In a 1945 review, Beadle suggested that "the gene can be visualized as directing the final configuration of a protein molecule and thus determining its specificity." He also argued that "for reasons of economy in the evolutionary process, one might expect that with few exceptions the final specificity of a particular enzyme would be imposed by only one gene." At the time, genes were widely thought to consist of proteins or nucleoproteins (although the Avery-MacLeod-McCarty experiment and related work was beginning to cast doubt on that idea). However, the proposed connection between a single gene and a single protein enzyme outlived the protein theory of gene structure. In a 1948 paper, Norman Horowitz named the concept the "one gene-one enzyme hypothesis".[8]

Although influential, the one gene-one enzyme hypothesis was not unchallenged. Among others, Max Delbrück was skeptical only a single enzyme was actually involved at each step along metabolic pathways. For many who did accept the results, it strengthened the link between genes and enzymes, so that some biochemists thought that genes were enzymes; this was consistent with other work, such as studies of the reproduction of tobacco mosaic virus (which was known to have heritable variations and which followed the same pattern of autocatalysis as many enzymatic reactions) and the crystallization of that virus as an apparently pure protein. By the early 1950s, most biochemists and geneticists considered DNA the most likely candidate for physical basis of the gene, and the one gene-one enzyme hypothesis was reinterpreted accordingly.[9]


One gene-one polypeptide

By the early 1950s, advances in biochemical genetics—spurred in part by the original hypothesis—made the one gene-one enzyme hypothesis seem very unlikely (at least in its original form). Beginning in 1957, Vernon Ingram and others showed through protein fingerprinting that genetic variations in proteins (such as sickle cell hemoglobin) could be limited to differences in just a single polypeptide chain in a multimeric protein, leading to a "one gene-one polypeptide" hypothesis instead.[10] According to geneticist Rowland H. Davis, "By 1958 – indeed, even by 1948 – one gene, one enzyme was no longer a hypothesis to be resolutely defended; it was simply the name of a research program."[11]

Presently, the one gene-one polypeptide perspective cannot account for the various spliced versions in many eukaryote organisms which use a spliceosome to individually prepare a RNA transcript depending on the various inter- and intra-cellular environmental signals. This splicing was discovered in 1977 by Phillip Sharp and Richard J. Roberts.

Possible anticipation of Beadle and Tatum's results

Historian Jan Sapp has suggested that German geneticist Franz Moewus generated similar results before Beadle and Tatum's celebrated 1941 work. Working on the algae Chlamydomonas, Moewus published, in the 1930s, results that showed that different genes were responsible for different enzymatic reactions in the production of hormones that controlled the organism's reproduction. However, these results were challenged by others who found the data 'too good to be true' statistically, and the results could not be replicated.[12]


  1. ^ a b Beadle GW, Tatum EL (15 November 1941). "Genetic Control of Biochemical Reactions in Neurospora". PNAS 27 (11): 499–506.  
  2. ^ Fruton, p. 434
  3. ^ Morange, p. 21
  4. ^ Bussard AE (2005). "A scientific revolution? The prion anomaly may challenge the central dogma of molecular biology". EMBO Reports 6 (8): 691–694. doi:10.1038/sj.embor.7400497. PMID 16065057.  
  5. ^ Morange, pp. 21-24
  6. ^ Fruton, pp. 432-434
  7. ^ Kay, pp. 204-205.
  8. ^ Fruton, p. 434
  9. ^ Morange, pp. 27-28
  10. ^ Berg P, Singer M. George Beadle, an uncommon farmer: the emergence of genetics in the 20th century,CSHL Press, 2003. ISBN 0879696885, 9780879696887
  11. ^ Davis RH (2007). "Beadle’s progeny: Innocence rewarded, innocence lost". Journal of Biosciences 32 (2): 197–205 [202].  
  12. ^ Morange, pp. 28-29


Further reading

  • Hickman M, Cairns J (2003). "The Centenary of the One-Gene One-Enzyme Hypothesis". Genetics 163 (3): 839–841.  
  • Horowitz NH (1995). "One-Gene-One-Enzyme: Remembering Biochemical Genetics". Protein Science 4 (5): 1017–1019. PMID 7663338.  


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