Manyuan Long Lab: de novo gene studied in Oryza and human brains featured in Nature - News in Focus

Oct 31, 2019
By Adam Levy

Some cod species have a newly minted gene involved in preventing freezing.

Credit: Paul Nicklen/NG Image Collection

How evolution builds genes from scratch - Manyuan Long Lab de novo gene studies in Oryza and human brains featured in Nature - News in Focus

Scientists long assumed that new genes appear when evolution tinkers with old ones. It turns out that natural selection is much more creative.

In the depths of winter, water temperatures in the ice-covered Arctic Ocean can sink below zero. That’s cold enough to freeze many fish, but the conditions don’t trouble the cod. A protein in its blood and tissues binds to tiny ice crystals and stops them from growing.

Where codfish got this talent was a puzzle that evolutionary biologist Helle Tessand Baalsrud wanted to solve. She and her team at the University of Oslo searched the genomes of the Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) and several of its closest relatives, thinking they would track down the cousins of the antifreeze gene. None showed up. Baalsrud, who at the time was a new parent, worried that her lack of sleep was causing her to miss something obvious.

Learn more about this research at Nature: News in Focus.