Occurrence of Copper Proteins through the Three Domains of Life: A Bioinformatic Approach

In high-throughput genome-level protein investigation efforts, such as Structural Genomics, the systematic experimental characterization of metal-binding properties (i.e., the investigation of the metalloproteome) is not always pursued and remains far from trivial. In the present work, we have applied a bioinformatic approach to investigate the occurrence of (putative) copper-binding proteins in 57 different organisms spanning the entire tree of life. We found that the size of the copper proteome is generally less than 1% of the total proteome of an organism, in both eukaryotes and prokaryotes. The occurrence of copper-binding proteins is relatively scarce when compared to that of zinc-binding proteins and of non-heme iron proteins. This may be due to both poorer bioavailability (in particular with respect to iron in the ancient world) and the complexity of copper chemistry and the risks associated with it, which may have adversely affected natural selection of copper-binding proteins. The present analysis shows that there is a strong relationship between the metal coordination sphere and protein function. A network involving proteins having roles in both copper transport and respiration was identified, parts or all of which are detected in the majority of the organisms examined.