Protein biophysics explains why highly abundant proteins evolve slowly

Cell Rep. 2012 Aug 30;2(2):249-56. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2012.06.022. Epub 2012 Aug 2.


The consistent observation across all kingdoms of life that highly abundant proteins evolve slowly demonstrates that cellular abundance is a key determinant of protein evolutionary rate. However, other empirical findings, such as the broad distribution of evolutionary rates, suggest that additional variables determine the rate of protein evolution. Here, we report that under the global selection against the cytotoxic effects of misfolded proteins, folding stability (ΔG), simultaneous with abundance, is a causal variable of evolutionary rate. Using both theoretical analysis and multiscale simulations, we demonstrate that the anticorrelation between the premutation ΔG and the arising mutational effect (ΔΔG), purely biophysical in origin, is a necessary requirement for abundance-evolutionary rate covariation. Additionally, we predict and demonstrate in bacteria that the strength of abundance-evolutionary rate correlation depends on the divergence time separating reference genomes. Altogether, these results highlight the intrinsic role of protein biophysics in the emerging universal patterns of molecular evolution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genome / physiology*
  • Mutation
  • Protein Folding*
  • Protein Stability
  • Proteins / chemistry*
  • Proteins / genetics*


  • Proteins