A Surprisingly Simple Biochemistry Rule Drives the Evolution of Useless Complexity

Not crazy about the headline, but doubtless this is an important part of the picture, despite the framing. Also, cool gif!

A Surprisingly Simple Biochemistry Rule Drives the Evolution of Useless Complexity

A Surprisingly Simple Biochemistry Rule Drives the Evolution of Useless Complexity

TOPICS:BiochemistryEvolutionGeneticsMolecular BiologyPopularUniversity Of Chicago

By UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO MEDICAL CENTER DECEMBER 23, 2020

Biochemical Concept

New study shows that proteins become biochemically addicted to complex interactions without adaptation.

A new study at the University of Chicago has shown that elaborate protein structures accumulate over deep time even when they serve no purpose, because a universal biochemical property and the genetic code force natural selection to preserve them. The work was published on December 9, 2020, in Nature.

Most proteins in our cells form specific complexes with other proteins, a process called multimerization. Like other kinds of complexity in biology, multimers are usually thought to persist over evolutionary time because they confer some functional benefit that is favored by natural selection.

“How complexity evolves is one of the great questions of evolutionary biology,” said senior author Joseph Thornton, PhD, professor of human genetics and ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago. “The classic explanation is that elaborate structures must exist because they confer some functional benefit on the organism, so natural selection drives ever-increasing states of complexity. Clearly in some cases complexity is adaptive, like the evolution of the eye: complex eyes see better than simple ones. But at the molecular level, we found that there are other simple mechanisms that drive the build-up of complexity.”

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A Surprisingly Simple Biochemistry Rule Drives the Evolution of Useless Complexity