Natural history as a predictor of protein evolvability.
Protein Eng Des Sel. 2006 Oct . 19(10):439-42.
Natural selection generally produces specific and efficient enzymes. In contrast, directed evolution experiments usually produce enzyme variants with broadened substrate specificity or enhanced catalytic promiscuity. Some proteins may be more evolvable than others, but few workers consider this problem when choosing starting points for laboratory evolution. Here, we review the variables associated with enzyme evolvability, namely promiscuity and mutational robustness. We present a qualitative model of adaptive evolution and recommend that protein engineers exploit their knowledge of natural history to identify evolvable wild-type proteins. Three examples of 'generalist' proteins that evolved in the laboratory into 'specialists' are described to illustrate the practical utility of this point.