Genes that evolve from scratch expand protein diversity - Featuring Manyuan Long

Mar 11, 2019
By Matt Wood

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One of the most important questions in biology is how rapidly new proteins evolve in organisms. Proteins are the building blocks that carry out the basic functions of life. As the genes that produce them change, the proteins change as well, introducing new functionality or traits that can eventually lead to the evolution of new species.

A new study published in Nature Ecology and Evolution led by scientists from the University of Chicago challenges one of the classic assumptions about how new proteins evolve. The research shows that random, noncoding sections of DNA can quickly evolve to produce new proteins. These de novo, or “from scratch,” genes provide a new, unexplored way that proteins evolve and contribute to biodiversity.

“Using a big genome comparison, we show that noncoding sequences can evolve into completely novel proteins. That’s a huge discovery,” said Manyuan Long, PhD, the Edna K. Papazian Distinguished Service Professor of Ecology and Evolution at UChicago and senior author of the new study.