How Perfect Can Protein Interactomes Be?

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Science Signaling  03 Mar 2009:
Vol. 2, Issue 60, pp. pe11
DOI: 10.1126/scisignal.260pe11

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Any engineered device should certainly not contain nonfunctional components, for this would be a waste of energy and money. In contrast, evolutionary theory tells us that biological systems need not be optimized and may very well accumulate nonfunctional elements. Mutational and demographic processes contribute to the cluttering of eukaryotic genomes and transcriptional networks with “junk” DNA and spurious DNA binding sites. Here, we question whether such a notion should be applied to protein interactomes—that is, whether these protein interactomes are expected to contain a fraction of nonselected, nonfunctional protein-protein interactions (PPIs), which we term “noisy.” We propose a simple relationship between the fraction of noisy interactions expected in a given organism and three parameters: (i) the number of mutations needed to create and destroy interactions, (ii) the size of the proteome, and (iii) the fitness cost of noisy interactions. All three parameters suggest that noisy PPIs are expected to exist. Their existence could help to explain why PPIs determined from large-scale studies often lack functional relationships between interacting proteins, why PPIs are poorly conserved across organisms, and why the PPI space appears to be immensely large. Finally, we propose experimental strategies to estimate the fraction of evolutionary noise in PPI networks.

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