A new study of proteins, the molecular machines that drive all life, also sheds light on the history of living organisms.
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 eucarya, the group that includes animals, plants, fungi and many other organisms).
Lead author Gustavo Caetano-Anolls, 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.
All proteins contain domains that can be identified by their structural and functional similarities to one another. These domains are the gears and motors that allow the protein machinery to work. Every protein has one or more of them, and very different proteins can contain the same, or similar, domains.
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-Anolls 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 d
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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign