Striking convergent evolution is found in the properties of the organic osmotic solute (osmolyte) systems observed in bacteria, plants, and animals. Polyhydric alcohols, free amino acids and their derivatives, and combinations of urea and methylamines are the three types of osmolyte systems found in all water-stressed organisms except the halobacteria. The selective advantages of the organic osmolyte systems are, first, a compatibility with macromolecular structure and function at high or variable (or both) osmolyte concentrations, and, second, greatly reduced needs for modifying proteins to function in concentrated intracellular solutions. Osmolyte compatibility is proposed to result from the absence of osmolyte interactions with substrates and cofactors, and the nonperturbing or favorable effects of osmolytes on macromolecular-solvent interactions.

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