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PLoS Comput Biol. 2009 Jan;5(1):e1000276. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000276. Epub 2009 Jan 30.

Cohesive versus flexible evolution of functional modules in eukaryotes.

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  • 1Theoretical Biology and Bioinformatics, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands.


Although functionally related proteins can be reliably predicted from phylogenetic profiles, many functional modules do not seem to evolve cohesively according to case studies and systematic analyses in prokaryotes. In this study we quantify the extent of evolutionary cohesiveness of functional modules in eukaryotes and probe the biological and methodological factors influencing our estimates. We have collected various datasets of protein complexes and pathways in Saccheromyces cerevisiae. We define orthologous groups on 34 eukaryotic genomes and measure the extent of cohesive evolution of sets of orthologous groups of which members constitute a known complex or pathway. Within this framework it appears that most functional modules evolve flexibly rather than cohesively. Even after correcting for uncertain module definitions and potentially problematic orthologous groups, only 46% of pathways and complexes evolve more cohesively than random modules. This flexibility seems partly coupled to the nature of the functional module because biochemical pathways are generally more cohesively evolving than complexes.

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