Signatures of ecological resource availability in the animal and plant proteomes

James J. Elser, William F. Fagan, Sankar Subramanian, Sudhir Kumar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Although substantial and ecologically significant differences in elemental composition are well documented for whole organisms, little is known about whether such differences extend to lower levels of biological organization, such as the elemental composition of major molecules. In a proteome-scale investigation of 9 plant genomes and 9 animal genomes, we find that the nitrogen (N) content of plant proteins is lower than that in animal proteins. Furthermore, protein N content declines with the intensity of gene expression for plants, whereas the N content of animal proteins shows no consistent pattern with expression. Additional analyses indicate that the differences in N content between plant and animal proteomes and in plant proteins as a function of gene expression cannot be attributed to protein size, GC content, gene function, or amino acid properties. These patterns suggest that ecophysiological selection has operated to conserve N in plants via decreased reliance on N-rich amino acids. This inference was supported by an analysis of conserved and variable sites indicating that the N content of plant amino acids coded by variable sites is similar to that of the sites conserved between plant and animal genomes and shows no association with expression level. In contrast, in animals, the N content of amino acids coded by variable sites is significantly higher than that for conserved sites, suggesting relaxation of selective constraints for N usage in the animal lineage. This constitutes the first evidence for an influence of environmental resource availability on proteomes of multicellular organisms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1946-1951
Number of pages6
JournalMolecular Biology and Evolution
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2006


  • Animal
  • Nitrogen
  • Plant
  • Proteome
  • Stoichiometry


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