A universal trend among proteomes indicates an oily last common ancestor

PLoS Comput Biol. 2012;8(12):e1002839. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002839. Epub 2012 Dec 27.


Despite progresses in ancestral protein sequence reconstruction, much needs to be unraveled about the nature of the putative last common ancestral proteome that served as the prototype of all extant lifeforms. Here, we present data that indicate a steady decline (oil escape) in proteome hydrophobicity over species evolvedness (node number) evident in 272 diverse proteomes, which indicates a highly hydrophobic (oily) last common ancestor (LCA). This trend, obtained from simple considerations (free from sequence reconstruction methods), was corroborated by regression studies within homologous and orthologous protein clusters as well as phylogenetic estimates of the ancestral oil content. While indicating an inherent irreversibility in molecular evolution, oil escape also serves as a rare and universal reaction-coordinate for evolution (reinforcing Darwin's principle of Common Descent), and may prove important in matters such as (i) explaining the emergence of intrinsically disordered proteins, (ii) developing composition- and speciation-based "global" molecular clocks, and (iii) improving the statistical methods for ancestral sequence reconstruction.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal
  • Oils*
  • Phylogeny
  • Proteome*
  • Recombination, Genetic


  • Oils
  • Proteome