REvolver: Modeling Sequence Evolution under Domain Constraints
Simulating the change of protein sequences over time in a biologically realistic way is fundamental for a broad range of studies with a focus on evolution. It is, thus, problematic that typically simulators evolve individual sites of a sequence identically and independently. More realistic simulations are possible; however, they are often prohibited by limited knowledge concerning site-specific evolutionary constraints or functional dependencies between amino acids. As a consequence, a protein's functional and structural characteristics are rapidly lost in the course of simulated evolution. Here, we present REvolver (www.cibiv.at/software/revolver), a program that simulates protein sequence alteration such that evolutionarily stable sequence characteristics, like functional domains, are maintained. For this purpose, REvolver recruits profile hidden Markov models (pHMMs) for parameterizing site-specific models of sequence evolution in an automated fashion. pHMMs derived from alignments of homologous proteins or protein domains capture information regarding which sequence sites remained conserved over time and where in a sequence insertions or deletions are more likely to occur. Thus, they describe constraints on the evolutionary process acting on these sequences. To demonstrate the performance of REvolver as well as its applicability in large-scale simulation studies, we evolved the entire human proteome up to 1.5 expected substitutions per site. Simultaneously, we analyzed the preservation of Pfam and SMART domains in the simulated sequences over time. REvolver preserved 92% of the Pfam domains originally present in the human sequences. This value drops to 15% when traditional models of amino acid sequence evolution are used. Thus, REvolver represents a significant advance toward a realistic simulation of protein sequence evolution on a proteome-wide scale. Further, REvolver facilitates the simulation of a protein family with a user-defined domain architecture at the root.