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Histo-blood group antigens (HBGAs) are a source of antigenic variation between individuals that modulates resistance and susceptibility to pathogens and is a barrier to the spread of enveloped viruses. HBGAs are also produced by a few prokaryotes where they are synthesized by glycosyltransferases (GTs) related to human HBGA synthases. Here we report the first structure of a bacterial GT of this family, from an intestinal resident, Bacteroides ovatus. Unlike its mammalian homologues and other GTs with similar folds, this protein lacks a metal-binding Asp-X-Asp motif and is fully active in the absence of divalent metal ions, yet is strikingly similar in structure and in its interactions with substrates to structurally characterized mammalian metal-dependent mammalian homologues. This shows how an apparently major divergence in catalytic properties can be accommodated by minor structural adjustments and illustrates the structural underpinnings of horizontal transfer of a functional gene from prokaryotes to vertebrates.