Domain deletions and substitutions in the modular protein evolution


E. Bornberg-Bauer, Division of Bioinformatics, School of Biological Sciences,The Westfalian Wilhelms University of Münster, Schlossplatz 4, D48149 Münster, Germany
Fax: +49 251 8321631
Tel: +49 251 8321630


The main mechanisms shaping the modular evolution of proteins are gene duplication, fusion and fission, recombination and loss of fragments. While a large body of research has focused on duplications and fusions, we concentrated, in this study, on how domains are lost. We investigated motif databases and introduced a measure of protein similarity that is based on domain arrangements. Proteins are represented as strings of domains and comparison was based on the classic dynamic alignment scheme. We found that domain losses and duplications were more frequent at the ends of proteins. We showed that losses can be explained by the introduction of start and stop codons which render the terminal domains nonfunctional, such that further shortening, until the whole domain is lost, is not evolutionarily selected against. We demonstrated that domains which also occur as single-domain proteins are less likely to be lost at the N terminus and in the middle, than at the C terminus. We conclude that fission/fusion events with single-domain proteins occur mostly at the C terminus. We found that domain substitutions are rare, in particular in the middle of proteins.We also showed that many cases of substitutions or losses result from erroneous annotations, but we were also able to find courses of evolutionary events where domains vanish over time. This is explained by a case study on the bacterial formate dehydrogenases.