Nav: Home

Symphony of genes

August 05, 2019

One of the most exciting discoveries in genome research was that the last common ancestor of all multicellular animals - which lived about 600 million years ago - already possessed an extremely complex genome. Many of the ancestral genes can still be found in modern day species (e.g., human). However, it has long been unclear whether the arrangement of these genes in the genome also had a certain function. In a recent study in Nature Ecology and Evolution, the biologists led by Oleg Simakov and Ulrich Technau show that not only individual genes but also these gene arrangements in the genome have played a key role in the course of animal evolution.

Genomes store the instructions for how to build an organism. Often only individual genes are associated with certain functions. However, the genome not only defines single genes but also tells us about their arrangement on the DNA. Remarkably, many of these arrangements have been preserved from the genome of the common ancestor of sponges and humans, over 600 million years ago. Despite this, their potential function has long eluded scientists.

What gene arrangements reveal

In their current study, the team from the Department of Molecular Evolution and Development at the University of Vienna has now uncovered the first insights into this question. Using comparative genomic analyses, the researchers reconstructed evolutionarily conserved gene arrangements in animals and investigated their activity in different cell types. They could show that genes that are always present together in the genome in several species, also tend to be active in the same cells. For example, three genes that have been adjacent in several species (e.g., in sponges or cnidarians) for 600 million years are primarily active in a digestive cell type. "Cell types in animals can thus be characterized not only by individual genes but also by specific gene arrangements, and different cell types are also capable of accessing different regions in the genome," explains Oleg Simakov, evolutionary biologist at the University of Vienna. In addition, the team noted that certain cell types seem to utilize such conserved regions more than others, and thus may represent very ancestral functions.

The results show that not only gene loss or the emergence of new genes have played an important role in evolution, but also the changes in the arrangement of genes in the genome have made a significant contribution. "The study thus opens up a far-reaching perspective on investigating the functions of these regions in the respective cell types," concludes Simakov.
-end-
Publication in Nature Ecology & Evolution

Ancient animal genome architecture reflects cell type identities, Bob Zimmermann, Nicolas SM Robert, Ulrich Technau, Oleg Simakov, In: Nature Ecology & Evolution.

DOI: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-019-0946-7

University of Vienna

Related Science Articles:

75 science societies urge the education department to base Title IX sexual harassment regulations on evidence and science
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today led 75 scientific societies in submitting comments on the US Department of Education's proposed changes to Title IX regulations.
Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, biopharma, and pharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2018 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.
Science in the palm of your hand: How citizen science transforms passive learners
Citizen science projects can engage even children who previously were not interested in science.
Applied science may yield more translational research publications than basic science
While translational research can happen at any stage of the research process, a recent investigation of behavioral and social science research awards granted by the NIH between 2008 and 2014 revealed that applied science yielded a higher volume of translational research publications than basic science, according to a study published May 9, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xueying Han from the Science and Technology Policy Institute, USA, and colleagues.
Prominent academics, including Salk's Thomas Albright, call for more science in forensic science
Six scientists who recently served on the National Commission on Forensic Science are calling on the scientific community at large to advocate for increased research and financial support of forensic science as well as the introduction of empirical testing requirements to ensure the validity of outcomes.
World Science Forum 2017 Jordan issues Science for Peace Declaration
On behalf of the coordinating organizations responsible for delivering the World Science Forum Jordan, the concluding Science for Peace Declaration issued at the Dead Sea represents a global call for action to science and society to build a future that promises greater equality, security and opportunity for all, and in which science plays an increasingly prominent role as an enabler of fair and sustainable development.
PETA science group promotes animal-free science at society of toxicology conference
The PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. is presenting two posters on animal-free methods for testing inhalation toxicity at the 56th annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting March 12 to 16, 2017, in Baltimore, Maryland.
Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science and Public Engagement
James Wynn's timely investigation highlights scientific studies grounded in publicly gathered data and probes the rhetoric these studies employ.
Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, pharma, and biopharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2016 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.
Three natural science professors win TJ Park Science Fellowship
Professor Jung-Min Kee (Department of Chemistry, UNIST), Professor Kyudong Choi (Department of Mathematical Sciences, UNIST), and Professor Kwanpyo Kim (Department of Physics, UNIST) are the recipients of the Cheong-Am (TJ Park) Science Fellowship of the year 2016.
More Science News and Science Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Risk
Why do we revere risk-takers, even when their actions terrify us? Why are some better at taking risks than others? This hour, TED speakers explore the alluring, dangerous, and calculated sides of risk. Guests include professional rock climber Alex Honnold, economist Mariana Mazzucato, psychology researcher Kashfia Rahman, structural engineer and bridge designer Ian Firth, and risk intelligence expert Dylan Evans.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#541 Wayfinding
These days when we want to know where we are or how to get where we want to go, most of us will pull out a smart phone with a built-in GPS and map app. Some of us old timers might still use an old school paper map from time to time. But we didn't always used to lean so heavily on maps and technology, and in some remote places of the world some people still navigate and wayfind their way without the aid of these tools... and in some cases do better without them. This week, host Rachelle Saunders...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.