Evolutionary innovation in eukaryotes and especially animals is at least partially driven by genome rearrangements and the resulting emergence of proteins with new domain combinations, and thus potentially novel functionality. Given the random nature of such rearrangements, one could expect that proteins with particularly useful multidomain combinations may have been rediscovered multiple times by parallel evolution. However, existing reports suggest a minimal role of this phenomenon in the overall evolution of eukaryotic proteomes. We assembled a collection of 172 complete eukaryotic genomes that is not only the largest, but also the most phylogenetically complete set of genomes analyzed so far. By employing a maximum parsimony approach to compare repertoires of Pfam domains and their combinations, we show that independent evolution of domain combinations is significantly more prevalent than previously thought. Our results indicate that about 25% of all currently observed domain combinations have evolved multiple times. Interestingly, this percentage is even higher for sets of domain combinations in individual species, with, for instance, 70% of the domain combinations found in the human genome having evolved independently at least once in other species. We also show that previous, much lower estimates of this rate are most likely due to the small number and biased phylogenetic distribution of the genomes analyzed. The process of independent emergence of identical domain combination is widespread, not limited to domains with specific functional categories. Besides data from large-scale analyses, we also present individual examples of independent domain combination evolution. The surprisingly large contribution of parallel evolution to the development of the domain combination repertoire in extant genomes has profound consequences for our understanding of the evolution of pathways and cellular processes in eukaryotes and for comparative functional genomics.
Most proteins in eukaryotes are composed of two or more domains, evolutionary independent units with (often) their own individual functions. The specific repertoire of multidomain proteins in a given species defines the topology of pathways and networks that carry out its metabolic and regulatory processes. When proteins with new domain combinations emerge by gene fusion and fission, it directly affects topology of cellular networks in this organism. To better understand the evolution of such networks we analyzed a large set of eukaryotic genomes for the evolutionary history of known domain combinations. Our analysis shows that 70% of all domain combinations present in the human genome independently appeared in at least one other eukaryotic genome. Overall, over 25% of all known multidomain architectures emerged independently several times in the history of life. The difference between a global and species specific picture can be explained by the existence of a core set of domain combinations that keeps reemerging in different species, which are accompanied by a smaller number of unique domain combinations that do not appear anywhere else.