The roots of biodiversity: How proteins differ across species

To better understand what drives biological diversity on Earth, scientists have historically looked at genetic differences between species. But this only provides part of the picture. The traits of a particular species are not merely the result of its genes but also the proteins those genes code for. Understanding the differences between species’ proteomes — or all of the proteins that can be expressed — is, therefore, as important as understanding differences between genomes.

In a new study, Yale researchers have compared the proteomes of skin cells from 11 mammals, which, they say, will help scientists understand the molecular drivers of biodiversity and how these factors have evolved over time.

They found that while many proteins are similarly variable both across and within species, some are more variable between species, providing clues about which proteins might be more important in mammalian evolution. The work may also help researchers understand why some species are more resistant to cancer.

Their findings were published Sept. 9 in Science Advances.

“In order to understand biological diversity, along with knowing how the DNA is different across species, you may also want to know how species behave, develop, and look differently,” said Günter Wagner, the Alison Richard Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

And these attributes — how a species looks, behaves, and develops — are believed to be more closely related to protein levels than to DNA, explained Yansheng Liu, an assistant professor of pharmacology at Yale School of Medicine.

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