Darwin is well known for his natural selection theory, the trigger for the acceptance of evolution as a major driving force in the biological world. Alongside natural selection, Darwin proposed the theory of co-evolution to explain concerted adaptations he observed between species. At the molecular level, co-evolution is perceived in compensatory mutations in protein sequences, often necessary to maintain the physical interactions that define protein structure and interactions. In a recent publication in eLife, researchers from Utrecht University, in collaboration with groups at Harvard University and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, showed that it is possible to mathematically exploit this co-evolution phenomenon and use it to infer, only from sequence information, the pairs of amino acids that define the interaction between two proteins. Combining this information with data-driven computational docking approaches such as HADDOCK, developed by Prof. Alexandre Bonvin at Utrecht University, allows accurate modeling of three-dimensional structures of protein interactions. This work is a breakthrough in protein interaction modeling, since current methodologies rely on experimental data, often hard to obtain, to produce accurate models. As such, this possibility of exploiting the evolutionary record of proteins to model their interactions paves the way for a low-cost but high-throughput alternative with broad applications, namely drug design.
- T.A. Hopf#, C.P.I. Schärfe#, J.P.G.L.M. Rodrigues#, A.G. Green, O. Kohlbacher, C. Sander*, A.M.J.J. Bonvin* and D.S. Marks*. Sequence co-evolution gives 3D contacts and structures of protein complexes. eLife. 10.7554/eLife.03430, Advanced Online Publication (2014)