Among all cellular life on earth, with the exception of yeasts, fungi, and some prokaryotes, VKOR family homologs are ubiquitously encoded in nuclear genomes, suggesting ancient and important biological roles for these enzymes. Despite single gene and whole genome duplications on the largest evolutionary timescales, and the fact that most gene duplications eventually result in loss of one copy, it is surprising that all jawed vertebrates (gnathostomes) have retained two paralogous VKOR genes. Both VKOR paralogs function as entry points for nutritionally acquired and recycled K vitamers in the vitamin K cycle. Here we present phylogenetic evidence that the human paralogs likely arose earlier than gnathostomes, possibly in the ancestor of crown chordates. We ask why gnathostomes have maintained these paralogs throughout evolution and present a current summary of what we know. In particular, we look to published studies about tissue- and developmental stage-specific expression, enzymatic function, phylogeny, biological roles and associated pathways that together suggest subfunctionalization as a major influence in evolutionary fixation of both paralogs. Additionally, we investigate on what evolutionary timescale the paralogs arose and under what circumstances in order to gain insight into the biological raison d’être
for both VKOR paralogs in gnathostomes.
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