They considered 106 proteins shared among 36 modern-day organisms of widely varying complexity, from single-celled protozoa up to humans.
The pair were studying "dehydrons" - regions of proteins that make them more unstable in watery environments.
These dehydrons - first discovered by Dr Fernandez - make the proteins more sticky in water, thereby raising the probability that they will adhere to other such proteins.
The analysis showed that organisms with smaller populations - such as humans - had accumulated more of these defects than simpler organisms with vastly higher population numbers.
The suggestion is that it is the acquisition of these defects, with sticky proteins more likely to work together in ever-more complex protein-protein interactions, that nudged cellular complexity upward.
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