Genome-Based Analysis of Heme Biosynthesis and Uptake in Prokaryotic Systems

Heme is the prosthetic group of many proteins that carry out a variety of key biological functions. In addition, for many pathogenic organisms, heme (acquired from the host) may constitute a very important source of iron. Organisms can meet their heme demands by taking it up from external sources, by producing the cofactor through a dedicated biosynthetic pathway, or both. Here we analyzed the distribution of proteins specifically involved in the processes of heme biosynthesis and heme uptake in 474 prokaryotic organisms. These data allowed us to identify which organisms are capable of performing none, one, or both processes, based on the similarity to known systems. Some specific instances where one or more proteins along the pathways had unusual modifications were singled out. For two key protein domains involved in heme uptake, we could build a series of structural models, which suggested possible alternative modes of heme binding. Future directions for experimental work are given.