The study, in the journal Structure, reveals that after eons of gradual evolution, proteins suddenly experienced a “big bang” of innovation.
The active regions of many proteins, called domains, combined with each other or split apart to produce a host of structures that had never been seen before. This explosion of new forms coincided with the rapidly increasing diversity of the three superkingdoms of life (bacteria; the microbes known as archaea; and eukarya, the group that includes animals, plants, fungi and many other organisms).
Lead author Gustavo Caetano-Anollés, a professor of bioinformatics in the department of crop sciences at the University of Illinois and an affiliate of the Institute for Genomic Biology, has spent years studying protein structures – he calls them “architectures” – which he suggests offer a reliable record of evolutionary events.
By conducting a census of all the domains that appear in different groups of organisms and comparing the protein repertoires of hundreds of different groups, the researchers were able to construct a timeline of protein evolution that relates directly to the history of life.
“The history of the protein repertoire should match the history of the entire organism because the organism is made up of all those pieces,” Caetano-Anollés said.
He and his co-author, postdoctoral researcher Minglei Wang, were interested in tracing how proteins make use of their domains, or groups of domains, to accomplish various tasks. These domains or domain clusters can be thought of as “modules” that fit together in various ways to achieve different ends.
Unlike the sequence of amino acids in a protein, which is highly susceptible to change, the protein modules found today in living organisms have endured because they perform critical tasks beneficial to the organisms that host them, Caetano-Anollés said.
“These modules are resistant to change, they are highly integrated and they are used in different contexts,” he said.
By tracing the history of the modules, the researchers were able to build a rough timeline of protein evolution. It revealed that before the three superkingdoms began to emerge, most proteins contained only single domains that performed a lot of tasks.
“As time progressed, these domains started to combine with others and they became very specialized,” Caetano-Anollés said. This eventually led to the big bang of protein architectures.
“Exactly at the time of the big bang,” many of the combined domains began to split apart, creating numerous single-domain modules again, he said. But these new modules were much more efficient and specialized than their ancient predecessors had been.
“This makes a lot of sense,” Caetano-Anollés said. “As you become more complex, you would want to fine-tune things, to do things in a more tailored way.”
The protein modules of the three superkingdoms also began to diverge more dramatically from one another, with the eukarya (the group that includes plants and animals) hosting the greatest diversity of modules.
“This explosion of diversity allowed the eukarya to do things with their proteins that other organisms could not do,” Caetano-Anollés said.
Diana Yates | University of Illinois
Funding of Collaborative Research Center developing nanomaterials for cancer immunotherapy extended
28.06.2017 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Zeolite catalysts pave the road to decentral chemical processes Confined space increases reactivity
28.06.2017 | Technische Universität München
An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.
Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...
Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.
Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...
Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.
As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...
Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.
With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...
Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine
Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...
19.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
28.06.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering
28.06.2017 | Life Sciences
28.06.2017 | Awards Funding