Thioredoxins are a family of conserved oxidoreductases responsible for maintaining redox balance within cells. They have also served as excellent model systems for protein design and engineering studies particularly through ancestral sequence reconstruction methods. The recent work by Gamiz-Arco et al. [Biochem J (2019) 476, 3631–3647] answers fundamental questions on how specific sequence differences can contribute to differences in folding rates between modern and ancient thioredoxins but also among a selected subset of modern thioredoxins. They surprisingly find that rapid unassisted folding, a feature of ancient thioredoxins, is not conserved in the modern descendants suggestive of co-evolution of better folding machinery that likely enabled the accumulation of mutations that slow-down folding. The work thus provides an interesting take on the expected folding-stability-function constraint while arguing for additional factors that contribute to sequence evolution and hence impact folding efficiency.

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