BACKGROUND: Despite a strong evolutionary pressure to reduce genome size, proteins vary in length over a surprisingly wide range also in very compact genomes. Here we investigated the evolutionary forces that act on protein size in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae utilizing a system-wide bioinformatics approach. Data on yeast protein size was compared to global experimental data on protein expression, phenotypic pleiotropy, protein-protein interactions, protein evolutionary rate and biochemical classification.
RESULTS: Comparing the experimentally determined abundance of individual proteins, highly expressed proteins were found to be consistently smaller than lowly expressed proteins, in accordance with the biosynthetic cost minimization hypothesis. Yeast proteins able to maintain a high expression level despite a large size tended to belong to a very distinct set of protein families, notably nuclear transport and translation initiation/elongation. Large proteins have significantly more protein-protein interactions than small proteins, suggesting that a requirement for multiple interaction domains may constitute a positive selective pressure for large protein size in yeast. The higher frequency of protein-protein interactions in large proteins was not accompanied by a higher phenotypic pleiotropy. Hence, the increase in interactions may not reflect an increase in function differentiation. Proteins of different sizes also evolved at similar rates. Finally, whereas the biological process involved was found to have little influence on protein size the biochemical activity exerted by the protein represented a dominant factor. More than one third of all biochemical activity classes were enriched in one or more size intervals.
CONCLUSION: In yeast, there is an inverse relationship between protein size and protein expression such that highly expressed proteins tend to be of smaller size. Also, protein size is moderately affected by protein connectivity and strongly affected by biochemical activity. Phenotypic pleiotropy does not seem to affect protein size.
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