accumulation of structural flaws in proteins preceded, rather than resulted from, the formation of complexes, Fernndez and Lynch turned to a natural experiment. Some bacterial species have two types of populations: communities that live inside other organisms and larger populations living free in the environment. When orthologous proteins were compared between these two populations, the same pattern emerged proteins from the smaller populations were more flawed than those from the free-living bacteria of the same species.
Despite these accidental benefits, the accumulation of too many structural flaws can be dangerous to an organism. When highly reactive proteins such as prions, amyloid-beta, or tau are too sticky, they can clump into aggregates that kill cells and cause diseases such as Alzheimer's and encephalopathy.
The implication that complexity initially arose by accident may be provocative within the field of evolutionary biology, the authors said. The discovery that flawed proteins are more likely to form complexes could also revolutionize the growing field of bioengineering, where the tools of evolution are used to create stronger, self-assembling, or self-reparing materials.
"Natural designs are often one notch more sophisticated than the best engineering," Fernndez said. "This is another example: Nature doesn't change the molecular machinery, but somehow it tinkers with it in subtle ways through the wrapping."
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