Posts Tagged ‘evolution’

Age doesn’t matter: New genes are as essential as ancient ones

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 12-17-2010

New genes that have evolved in species as little as one million years ago – a virtual blink in evolutionary history – can be just as essential for life as ancient genes, startling new research has discovered.

Evolutionary biologists have long proposed that the genes most important to life are ancient and conserved, handed down from species to species as the “bread and butter” of biology. New genes that arise as species split off from their ancestors were thought to serve less critical roles – the “vinegar” that adds flavor to the core genes.

But when nearly 200 new genes in the fruit fly species Drosophila melanogaster were individually silenced in laboratory experiments at the University of Chicago, more than 30 percent of the knockdowns were found to kill the fly. The study, published December 17 in Science, suggests that new genes are equally important for the successful development and survival of an organism as older genes.

“A new gene is as essential as any other gene; the importance of a gene is independent of its age,” said Manyuan Long, PhD, Professor of Ecology & Evolution and senior author of the paper. “New genes are no longer just vinegar, they are now equally likely to be butter and bread. We were shocked.”

The study used technology called RNA interference to permanently block the transcription of each targeted gene into its functional product from the beginning of a fly’s life. Of the 195 young genes tested, 59 were lethal (30 percent), causing the fly to die during its development. When the same method was applied to a sample of older genes, a statistically similar figure was found: 86 of 245 genes (35 percent) were lethal when silenced.

Click here to read the full story.

Smartphone App Can Help Determine If You’re More Like a Pig or a Rose

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 09-22-2010

Blair Hedges of Pennsylvania State University and Sudhir Kumar of Arizona State University have created a new smartphone app called “TimeTree,” that allows exploration of the thousands of divergence times among organisms in the published literature. By simply entering two different organisms into the application you can easily compare when in time the two species diverged (calculated using gene mutations to measure time).

According to the website ( those most likely to find the search utility in TimeTree useful will be researchers who already have some knowledge of evolutionary biology and wish to mine the available published data. Nonethless, despite my limited evolutionary biology background I was easily able to ascertain that humans are much closer to pigs (we diverged 98.6 million years ago) than they are to roses (which diverged 1,457.8 million years ago). So I guess that comparing someone to a pig is a higher compliment than comparing them to a rose. After all, a person who is like a pig is much more evolved than a person who acts like a pig!

Thanks to genomeweb for bringing this story to my attention.

Hedges SB, Dudley J & Kumar S (2006) TimeTree: a public knowledge-base of divergence times among organisms. Bioinformatics 22:2971-2972