Dasmeh, Pouria; Roman Doronin and Andreas Wagner
One key feature of proteins that form liquid droplets by phase separation inside a cell is the presence of multiple sites – multivalency – that mediate interactions with other proteins. We know little about the variation of multivalency on evolutionary time scales. Here, we investigated the long-term evolution (∼600 million years) of multivalency in fungal mRNA decapping subunit 2 protein (Dcp2), and in the FET protein family. We found that multivalency varies substantially among the orthologs of these proteins. However, evolution has maintained the length scale at which sequence motifs that enable protein-protein interactions occur. That is, the total number of such motifs per hundred amino acids is higher and less variable than expected by neutral evolution. To help explain this evolutionary conservation, we developed a conformation classifier using machine-learning algorithms. This classifier demonstrates that disordered segments in Dcp2 and FET proteins tend to adopt compact conformations, which is necessary for phase separation. Thus, the evolutionary conservation we detected may help proteins preserve the ability to undergo phase separation. Altogether, our study reveals that the length scale of multivalent interactions is an evolutionarily conserved feature of two classes of phase-separating proteins in fungi and vertebrates.