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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Comparative evolutionary analysis of protein complexes in E. coli and yeast

Adam J Reid13*, Juan AG Ranea2 and Christine A Orengo1

Author Affiliations

1 Research Department of Structural & Molecular Biology, University College London, London, WC1E 6BT, UK

2 Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, University of Malaga, Malaga, Spain

3 Current address: Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Wellcome Trust Genome Campus, Hinxton, Cambridge CB10 1SA, UK

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BMC Genomics 2010, 11:79  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-11-79

Published: 1 February 2010



Proteins do not act in isolation; they frequently act together in protein complexes to carry out concerted cellular functions. The evolution of complexes is poorly understood, especially in organisms other than yeast, where little experimental data has been available.


We generated accurate, high coverage datasets of protein complexes for E. coli and yeast in order to study differences in the evolution of complexes between these two species. We show that substantial differences exist in how complexes have evolved between these organisms. A previously proposed model of complex evolution identified complexes with cores of interacting homologues. We support findings of the relative importance of this mode of evolution in yeast, but find that it is much less common in E. coli. Additionally it is shown that those homologues which do cluster in complexes are involved in eukaryote-specific functions. Furthermore we identify correlated pairs of non-homologous domains which occur in multiple protein complexes. These were identified in both yeast and E. coli and we present evidence that these too may represent complex cores in yeast but not those of E. coli.


Our results suggest that there are differences in the way protein complexes have evolved in E. coli and yeast. Whereas some yeast complexes have evolved by recruiting paralogues, this is not apparent in E. coli. Furthermore, such complexes are involved in eukaryotic-specific functions. This implies that the increase in gene family sizes seen in eukaryotes in part reflects multiple family members being used within complexes. However, in general, in both E. coli and yeast, homologous domains are used in different complexes.