Phenotypic traits derive from the selective recruitment of genetic materials over macroevolutionary times, and protein-coding genes constitute an essential component of these materials. We took advantage of the recent production of genomic scale data from sponges and cnidarians, sister groups from eumetazoans and bilaterians, respectively, to date the emergence of human proteins and to infer the timing of acquisition of novel traits through metazoan evolution. Comparing the proteomes of 23 eukaryotes, we find that 33% human proteins have an ortholog in nonmetazoan species. This premetazoan proteome associates with 43% of all annotated human biological processes. Subsequently, four major waves of innovations can be inferred in the last common ancestors of eumetazoans, bilaterians, euteleostomi (bony vertebrates), and hominidae, largely specific to each epoch, whereas early branching deuterostome and chordate phyla show very few innovations. Interestingly, groups of proteins that act together in their modern human functions often originated concomitantly, although the corresponding human phenotypes frequently emerged later. For example, the three cnidarians Acropora, Nematostella, and Hydra express a highly similar protein inventory, and their protein innovations can be affiliated either to traits shared by all eumetazoans (gut differentiation, neurogenesis); or to bilaterian traits present in only some cnidarians (eyes, striated muscle); or to traits not identified yet in this phylum (mesodermal layer, endocrine glands). The variable correspondence between phenotypes predicted from protein enrichments and observed phenotypes suggests that a parallel mechanism repeatedly produce similar phenotypes, thanks to novel regulatory events that independently tie preexisting conserved genetic modules.
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