Three-dimensional structure information, now available at the proteome scale, may facilitate the detection of remote evolutionary relationships in protein superfamilies. Here, we illustrate this with the identification of a novel family of protein domains related to the ferredoxin-like superfold, by combining (i) transitive sequence similarity searches, (ii) clustering approaches and (iii) the use of AlphaFold2 3D structure models. Domains of this family called CoBaHMA, were initially identified in relation with the intracellular biomineralization of calcium carbonates by Cyanobacteria. They are part of the large heavy-metal-associated (HMA) superfamily, departing from the latter by specific sequence and structural features. In particular, most CoBaHMA domains share conserved basic amino acids, forming a positively charged surface, which is likely to interact with anionic partners. CoBaHMA domains are found in diverse modular organizations in bacteria, existing in the form of monodomain proteins or as part of larger proteins, some of which are membrane proteins involved in transport or lipid metabolism. This suggests that the CoBaHMA domains may exert a regulatory function, involving interactions with anionic lipids. This hypothesis might have a particular resonance in the context of the compartmentalization observed for cyanobacterial intracellular calcium carbonates.
Order and disorder govern protein functions, but there is a great diversity in disorder, from regions that are – and stay – fully disordered to conditional order. This diversity is still difficult to decipher even though it is encoded in the amino acid sequences. Here, we developed an analytic Python package, named pyHCA, to estimate the foldability of a protein segment from the only information of its amino acid sequence and based on a measure of its density in regular secondary structures associated with hydrophobic clusters, as defined by the Hydrophobic Cluster Analysis (HCA) approach. The tool was designed by optimizing the separation between foldable segments from databases of disorder (DisProt) and order (SCOPe (soluble domains) and OPM (transmembrane domains)). It allows to specify the ratio between order, embodied by regular secondary structures (either participating in the hydrophobic core of well-folded 3D structures or conditionally formed in intrinsically disordered regions) and disorder. We illustrated the relevance of pyHCA with several examples and applied it to the sequences of the proteomes of 21 species ranging from prokaryotes and archaea to unicellular and multicellular eukaryotes, for which structure models are provided in the AlphaFold2 databases. Cases of low-confidence scores related to disorder were distinguished from those of sequences that we identified as foldable but are still excluded from accurate modeling by AlphaFold2 due to a lack of sequence homologs or to compositional biases. Overall, our approach is complementary to AlphaFold2, providing guides to map structural innovations through evolutionary processes, at proteome and gene scales.