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Genome Res. 2005 Apr;15(4):552-9.

Novel specificities emerge by stepwise duplication of functional modules.

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MRC-Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Structural Studies Division, Cambridge CB2 2QH, United Kingdom.


A functional module can be defined as a spatially or chemically isolated set of functionally associated components that accomplishes a discrete biological process. Modularity is a key attribute of cellular systems, but the mechanisms that underlie the evolution of functional modules are largely unknown. Duplication of modules has been shown to be an efficient mechanism for the generation of functional innovation in the field of artificial intelligence, but has not been studied in biological networks. Therefore, we ask whether module duplication occurs in cellular networks. We developed a generic framework for the analysis of module duplication, and use it in a large-scale analysis of Saccharomyces cerevisiae protein complexes. Protein complexes are well defined, experimentally derived, functional modules. We observe that at least 6%-20% of the protein complexes have strong similarity to other complexes; thus a considerable fraction has evolved by duplication. Our results indicate that many complexes evolved by step-wise partial duplications. We show that duplicated complexes retain the same overall function, but have different binding specificities and regulation, revealing that duplication of these modules is associated with functional specialization.

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