How evolution endowed membrane enzymes with specific abilities, and then tuned them to the needs of different cells, is poorly understood. We examined whether statistical coupling analysis (SCA) can be applied to rhomboid proteases, the most widely distributed membrane proteins, to identify amino acid "sectors" that evolved independently to acquire a specific function. SCA revealed three coevolving residue networks that form two sectors. Sector 1 determines substrate specificity, but is paradoxically scattered across the protein, consistent with dynamics driving rhomboid-substrate interactions. Sector 2 is hierarchically composed of a subgroup that maintains the catalytic site, and another that maintains the overall fold, forecasting evolution of rhomboid pseudoproteases. Changing only sector 1 residues of a "recipient" rhomboid converted its substrate specificity and catalytic efficiency to that of the "donor." While used only twice over a decade ago, SCA should be generally applicable to membrane proteins, and our sector grafting approach provides an efficient strategy for designing enzymes.
Keywords: Ras-converting enzyme-1; gamma-secretase; membrane protein evolution; presenilin; proteolysis; site-2 protease; statistical coupling analysis.
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