ATG8 Expansion: A Driver of Selective Autophagy Diversification?

Selective autophagy is a conserved homeostatic pathway that involves engulfment of specific cargo molecules into specialized organelles called autophagosomes. The ubiquitin-like protein ATG8 is a central player of the autophagy network that decorates autophagosomes and binds to numerous cargo receptors. Although highly conserved across eukaryotes, ATG8 diversified from a single protein in algae to multiple isoforms in higher plants. We present a phylogenetic overview of 376 ATG8 proteins across the green plant lineage that revealed family-specific ATG8 clades. Because these clades differ in fixed amino acid polymorphisms, they provide a mechanistic framework to test whether distinct ATG8 clades are functionally specialized. We propose that ATG8 expansion may have contributed to the diversification of selective autophagy pathways in plants.