Protein ‘big bang’ reveals molecular makeup for medicine and bioengineering

Laura Quinn in Phys.Org:

Proteins have been quietly taking over our lives since the COVID-19 pandemic began. We’ve been living at the whim of the virus’s so-called “spike” protein, which has mutated dozens of times to create increasingly deadly variants. But the truth is, we have always been ruled by proteins. At the cellular level, they’re responsible for pretty much everything.

Proteins are so fundamental that DNA—the genetic material that makes each of us unique—is essentially just a long sequence of protein blueprints. That’s true for animals, plants, fungi, bacteria, archaea, and even viruses. And just as those groups of organisms evolve and change over time, so too do proteins and their component parts.

A new study from University of Illinois researchers, published in Scientific Reports, maps the evolutionary history and interrelationships of protein domains, the subunits of protein molecules, over 3.8 billion years. “Knowing how and why domains combine in proteins during evolution could help scientists understand and engineer the activity of proteins for medicine and bioengineering applications. For example, these insights could guide disease management, such as making better vaccines from the spike protein of COVID-19 viruses,” says Gustavo Caetano-Anollés, professor in the Department of Crop Sciences, affiliate of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at Illinois, and senior author on the paper.

More here.