A huge new study shows that across the tree of life, species as diverse as worms,
mice, humans and sea anemones share many of the protein machines that help their cells to
The researchers found protein assemblies in humans were often identical to those
in other species.
Image credit: Jovana Drinkjakovic
The new study, involving seven research groups from three countries and led by researchers
from the University of Texas (UT) at Austin and the University of Toronto in Canada, is
published in the journal Nature. It is one of the largest and most detailed pieces
of research on animal molecular biology ever undertaken.
Cells use complex combinations of proteins as tools to carry out essential processes – for
example, cell growth and repair, transport and recycling of materials and signaling between
The new study maps the assembly instructions for nearly 1,000 protein complexes that are
identical in cells of species representing a broad cross-section of the animal kingdom,
revealing their shared evolution.
One of the senior authors Edward Marcotte, a professor of molecular biosciences at UT
“Essentially, we were able to construct a sort of assembly diagram of how
thousands of different proteins come together to carry out their proper roles inside the
cells of most kinds of animals.”
Prof. Marcotte and colleagues used techniques like high-throughput mass spectrometry to
analyze cell proteins from organisms ranging from slime mold, yeast, worms, sea urchins and
sea anemones to flies, frogs, mice and humans.
They then cross-referenced the mass spectrometry data with information already known about
the genomes of these species.
Many protein assemblies in humans identical to other species
The map also details the network of protein-to-protein interactions that take place when
the proteins come together to form the complexes.
For example, it shows that a protein whose role we do not yet know is likely to be
involved in fixing damage in a cell if it sticks to cell’s known “handymen” proteins.
This is like finding the instruction manual for making different transformer toys from the
basic building blocks, and not only this, but also how to put transformers together to make
The researchers also found protein assemblies in humans were often identical to
those in other species. For example, they found that identical protein complexes are used by
cells to form the head and eye across the different species.
Co-senior author Andrew Emili, a professor in molecular genetics at Toronto, says for him
the highlight of the study was its sheer scale:
“We have tripled the number of known protein interactions for every species. So across all
the animals, we can now predict, with high confidence, more than 1 million protein
interactions – a fundamentally ‘big step’ moving the goal posts forward in terms of protein
If even one of these interactions is disrupted or lost, it can lead to disease. Thus the
map – which will available to researchers worldwide through open access databases – will be a
powerful tool for studying the causes of diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and
The findings also reveal that tens of thousands of protein interactions have not changed
since the first ancestral cell appeared 1 billion years ago – preceding all of animal life
Prof. Marcotte summarizes the value of the new data:
“This not only reinforces what we already know about our common evolutionary
ancestry, it also has practical implications, providing the ability to study the genetic
basis for a wide variety of diseases and how they present in different
Meanwhile, Medical News Today recently learned that scientists have also mapped
the gene activity of a human embryo’s first days. The
study, published in Nature Communications and led by the Karolinska Institutet in
Sweden, should lead to new research avenues and treatments for infertility and other
Written by Catharine Paddock PhD
Copyright: Medical News Today
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