The goal of this work is to learn from nature the rules that govern evolution and the design of protein function. The fundamental laws of physics lie in the foundation of the protein structure and all stages of the protein evolution, determining optimal sizes and shapes at different levels of structural hierarchy. We looked back into the very onset of the protein evolution with a goal to find elementary functions (EFs) that came from the prebiotic world and served as building blocks of the first enzymes. We defined the basic structural and functional units of biochemical reactions—elementary functional loops. The diversity of contemporary enzymes can be described via combinations of a limited number of elementary chemical reactions, many of which are performed by the descendants of primitive prebiotic peptides/proteins. By analyzing protein sequences we were able to identify EFs shared by seemingly unrelated protein superfamilies and folds and to unravel evolutionary relations between them. Binding and metabolic processing of the metal- and nucleotide-containing cofactors and ligands are among the most abundant ancient EFs that became indispensable in many natural enzymes. Highly designable folds provide structural scaffolds for many different biochemical reactions. We show that contemporary proteins are built from a limited number of EFs, making their analysis instrumental for establishing the rules for protein design. Evolutionary studies help us to accumulate the library of essential EFs and to establish intricate relations between different folds and functional superfamilies. Generalized sequence-structure descriptors of the EF will become useful in future design and engineering of desired enzymatic functions.
Physical Biology, Vol. 12, No. 4, 2015, doi:10.1088/1478-3975/12/4/045002
Date of acceptance