Hierarchical partitioning of metazoan protein conservation profiles provides new functional insights

Jonathan Witztum, Erez Persi, David Horn, Metsada Pasmanik-Chor, Benny Chor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The availability of many complete, annotated proteomes enables the systematic study of the relationships between protein conservation and functionality. We explore this question based solely on the presence or absence of protein homologues (a.k.a. conservation profiles). We study 18 metazoans, from two distinct points of view: the human's and the fly's. Using the GOrilla gene ontology (GO) analysis tool, we explore functional enrichment of the "universal proteins", those with homologues in all 17 other species, and of the "non-universal proteins". A large number of GO terms are strongly enriched in both human and fly universal proteins. Most of these functions are known to be essential. A smaller number of GO terms, exhibiting markedly different properties, are enriched in both human and fly non-universal proteins. We further explore the non-universal proteins, whose conservation profiles are consistent with the "tree of life" (TOL consistent), as well as the TOL inconsistent proteins. Finally, we applied Quantum Clustering to the conservation profiles of the TOL consistent proteins. Each cluster is strongly associated with one or a small number of specific monophyletic clades in the tree of life. The proteins in many of these clusters exhibit strong functional enrichment associated with the "life style" of the related clades. Most previous approaches for studying function and conservation are "bottom up", studying protein families one by one, and separately assessing the conservation of each. By way of contrast, our approach is "top down". We globally partition the set of all proteins hierarchically, as described above, and then identify protein families enriched within different subdivisions. While supporting previous findings, our approach also provides a tool for discovering novel relations between protein conservation profiles, functionality, and evolutionary history as represented by the tree of life.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere90282
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number3
StatePublished - 4 Mar 2014


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