New genes born by accident lead to evolutionary innovation

December 31, 2015

Novel genes are continuously emerging during evolution, but what drives this process? A new study, published in PLOS Genetics, has found that the fortuitous appearance of certain combinations of elements in the genome can lead to the generation of new genes. This work was led by Jorge Ruiz-Orera and Mar Albà from Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute in Barcelona (IMIM-ICREA).

In every genome, there are sets of genes, which are unique to that particular species. In this study, the scientists first identified thousands of genes that were specific to human or chimpanzee. Then, they searched the macaque genome and discovered that this species had significantly less element motifs in the corresponding genomic sequences. These motifs are recognized by proteins that activate gene expression, a necessary step in the formation of a new gene.

The formation of genes de novo from previously non-active parts of the genome was, until recently, considered highly improbable. This study has shown that the mutations that occur normally in our genetic material may be sufficient to explain how this happens. Once expressed, the genes can act as a substrate for the evolution of new molecular functions. This study identified several candidate human proteins that bear no resemblance to any other known protein. What they do is an enigma still to be resolved.
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FINANCIAL DISCLOSURE: The main grant was BFU2012-36820 from the Spanish Government, which was co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (FEDER). Another grant was from Instituto de Salud Carlos III, Gobierno de España, grant number PT13/0001. We also received funds from Agència de Gestió d'Ajuts Universitaris i de Recerca Generalitat de Catalunya, grant number 2014SGR1121. Another funding source was the European Molecular Biology Organization Young Investigators Program 2014 grant awarded to TMB. TMB was also supported by MICINN BFU2014-55090-P, BFU2015-7116-ERC and BFU2015-6215-ERC. MA and TMB were supported by ICREA Institut Català de Recerca i Estudis Avançats, Generalitat de Catalunya. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

COMPETING INTERESTS: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

CITATION: Ruiz-Orera J, Hernandez-Rodriguez J, Chiva C, Sabidó E, Kondova I, Bontrop R, et al. (2015) Origins of De Novo Genes in Human and Chimpanzee. PLoS Genet 11(12): e1005721. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1005721

PLEASE ADD THIS LINK TO THE FREELY AVAILABLE ARTICLE IN ONLINE VERSIONS OF YOUR REPORT (the link will go live when the embargo ends): http://www.plosgenetics.org/doi/pgen.1005721

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