Coiled coils are α-helical interactions found in many natural proteins. Various sequence-based coiled-coil predictors are available, but key issues remain: oligomeric state and protein-protein interface prediction and extension to all genomes. We present SpiriCoil (http://supfam.org/SUPERFAMILY/spiricoil), which is based on a novel approach to the coiled-coil prediction problem for coiled coils that fall into known superfamilies: hundreds of hidden Markov models representing coiled-coil-containing domain families. Using whole domains gives the advantage that sequences flanking the coiled coils help. SpiriCoil performs at least as well as existing methods at detecting coiled coils and significantly advances the state of the art for oligomer state prediction. SpiriCoil has been run on over 16 million sequences, including all completely sequenced genomes (more than 1200), and a resulting Web interface supplies data downloads, alignments, scores, oligomeric state classifications, three-dimensional homology models and visualisation. This has allowed, for the first time, a genomewide analysis of coiled-coil evolution. We found that coiled coils have arisen independently de novo well over a hundred times, and these are observed in 16 different oligomeric states. Coiled coils in almost all oligomeric states were present in the last universal common ancestor of life. The vast majority of occasions that individual coiled coils have arisen de novo were before the last universal common ancestor of life; we do, however, observe scattered instances throughout subsequent evolutionary history, mostly in the formation of the eukaryote superkingdom. Coiled coils do not change their oligomeric state over evolution and did not evolve from the rearrangement of existing helices in proteins; coiled coils were forged in unison with the fold of the whole protein.
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