A fundamental requirement for life is the replication of an organism’s DNA. Studies in Escherichia coli and Bacillus subtilis have set the paradigm for DNA replication in bacteria. During replication initiation in E. coli and B. subtilis, the replicative helicase is loaded onto the DNA at the origin of replication by an ATPase helicase loader. However, most bacteria do not encode homologs to the helicase loaders in E. coli and B. subtilis. Recent work has identified the DciA protein as a predicted helicase operator that may perform a function analogous to the helicase loaders in E. coli and B. subtilis. DciA proteins, which are defined by the presence of a DUF721 domain (termed the DciA domain herein), are conserved in most bacteria but have only been studied in mycobacteria and gammaproteobacteria (Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Vibrio cholerae). Sequences outside the DciA domain in Mycobacterium tuberculosis DciA are essential for protein function but are not conserved in the P. aeruginosa and V. cholerae homologs, raising questions regarding the conservation and evolution of DciA proteins across bacterial phyla. To comprehensively define the DciA protein family, we took a computational evolutionary approach and analyzed the domain architectures and sequence properties of DciA domain-containing proteins across the tree of life. These analyses identified lineage-specific domain architectures among DciA homologs, as well as broadly conserved sequence-structural motifs. The diversity of DciA proteins represents the evolution of helicase operation in bacterial DNA replication and highlights the need for phylum-specific analyses of this fundamental biological process. IMPORTANCE Despite the fundamental importance of DNA replication for life, this process remains understudied in bacteria outside Escherichia coli and Bacillus subtilis. In particular, most bacteria do not encode the helicase-loading proteins that are essential in E. coli and B. subtilis for DNA replication. Instead, most bacteria encode a DciA homolog that likely constitutes the predominant mechanism of helicase operation in bacteria. However, it is still unknown how DciA structure and function compare across diverse phyla that encode DciA proteins. In this study, we performed computational evolutionary analyses to uncover tremendous diversity among DciA homologs. These studies provide a significant advance in our understanding of an essential component of the bacterial DNA replication machinery.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of bacteriology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2022


  • Actinobacteria
  • DNA helicase
  • DNA replication
  • DUF721
  • DciA
  • domain architecture
  • eubacteria
  • helicase loader
  • phylogeny
  • proteobacteria


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