Similar protein segments shared between domains of different evolutionary lineages

Kaiyu Qiu, Nir Ben-Tal, Rachel Kolodny

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The emergence of novel proteins, beyond these that can be readily made by duplication and recombination of preexisting domains, is elusive. De novo emergence from random sequences is unlikely because the vast majority of random chains would not even fold, let alone function. An alternative explanation is that novel proteins emerge by duplication and fusion of pre-existing polypeptide segments. In this case, traces of such ancient events may remain within contemporary proteins in the form of reused segments. Together with the late Dan Tawfik, we detected such similar segments, far shorter than intact protein domains, which are found in different environments. The detection of these, “bridging themes,” was based on a unique search strategy, where in addition to searching for similarity of shared fragments, so-called “themes,” we also explicitly searched for cases in which the sequence segments before and after the theme are dissimilar (both in sequence and structure). Here, using a similar strategy, we further expanded the search and discovered almost 500 additional “bridging themes,” linking domains that are often from ancient folds. The themes, of 20 residues or more (average 53), do not retain their structure despite sharing 37% sequence identity on average. Indeed, conformation flexibility may confer an evolutionary advantage, in that it fits in multiple environments. We elaborate on two interesting themes, shared between Rossmann/Trefoil-Plexin-like domains and a β-propeller-like domain. For a Broad Audience: A fundamental question in molecular evolution is how protein domains emerged. Similar segments shared between domains of seemingly distinct origins, may offer clues, as these may be remnants of the evolutionary process through which these domains emerged. However, finding such cases is difficult. Here, we expand the set of such cases which we curated previously, adding segments shared between domains that are considered ancient.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere4407
JournalProtein Science
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors. Protein Science published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of The Protein Society.


  • ancestral peptides
  • bridging themes
  • protein emergence
  • protein evolutionary patterns
  • protein space

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Biochemistry


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