q&more
My watch list
my.chemie.de  
Login  

News

Genes out of thin air

Precursors of genes constantly emerge "out of thin air" – but only a few survive for good

DasWortgewand, pixabay.com, CC0

Symbol picture

13-Sep-2018: Accumulating evidence suggests that new genes can arise spontaneously from previously non-coding DNA instead of through the gradual mutation of established genes. Bioinformaticians at the University of Münster are now, for the first time, studying the earliest stages in the emergence of such “genes out of thin air”, also known as de novo genes.

As most of us have learned at school, organisms evolve gradually due to the accumulation of many small genetic changes known as point mutations. Over millions of years, these mutations occur in the duplicated copies of established genes, occasionally contributing useful properties of their own. For decades it was considered inconceivable that completely novel genes could emerge spontaneously. Only very recently were there serious indications that novel protein coding genes might indeed be formed de novo from so-called non-coding DNA, i.e. in parts of the genome that do not produce proteins. Now, for the first time, a new study has examined the earliest stages in the emergence of these de novo genes. The study – which has been published in the latest issue of the “Nature Ecology and Evolution” journal – was carried out by a team of bioinformaticians led by Prof. Erich Bornberg-Bauer from the Institute of Evolution and Biodiversity at the University of Münster.

Using computer analyses, the team compared several properties of de novo genes in mice with those in four other types of mammals: rats, kangaroo rats, humans and opossums. Based on this comparison, the researchers were able to shed light on 160 million years of evolution in mammals. They took a close look at DNA transcripts (sequences which are present in the cell as RNA templates) that contain the ORFs (Open Reading Frames) necessary for the encoding of proteins.

“Our study shows that new ORFs – in other words, the candidates for assembly instructions for new proteins – constantly emerge ‘out of nowhere’ in non-coding DNA regions,” says bioinformatician Erich Bornberg-Bauer. “But, just like their transcripts, the vast majority disappear again very quickly during the evolutionary process.” Although only very few of these candidates actually become fully functioning genes – i.e. genes containing the assembly instructions for functioning proteins – some of the candidates are retained at random for longer periods of time, simply because of the enormous number of new transcripts being continuously produced. “These transcripts can then be found in several lineages,” says Bornberg-Bauer. “Probably, they can augment the repertoire of existing proteins over longer periods of time and become adapted to the interaction with such established proteins.”

This means that a de novo protein can occasionally acquire a function in the organism. “This also provides us with an explanation of how fundamentally new properties can emerge in an organism,” says Bornberg-Bauer, “because this cannot be explained just by point mutations in the genetic structure.”

Original publication:
Jonathan F. Schmitz, Kristian K. Ullrich and Erich Bornberg-Bauer; "Incipient de novo genes can evolve from frozen accidents which escaped rapid transcript turnover"; Nature Ecology and Evolution; 10 September 2018

Facts, background information, dossiers

  • genes
  • evolution
  • non-coding DNA

More about WWU Münster

  • News

    Chemists give chance a helping hand

    Whether they are synthetic materials such as PET and Teflon, medicines or flavourings, life without synthetically produced compounds is barely conceivable in our everyday lives today. The chemical industry depends on efficient, long-term methods of producing synthetically derived molecules. ... more

    Converting biomass by applying mechanical force

    One of the greatest global challenges is the efficient use of renewable sources in order to meet the increasing demand for energy and feedstock chemicals in the future. In this context, biomass is a promising alternative to existing fossil sources such as coal or oil. Cellulose plays a deci ... more

    Novel method for rapid detection of antibiotic resistance

    Respiratory, urinary tract, wound infections, and sepsis: the list of sites in which severe and life-threatening diseases manifest as a result of multidrug resistant microorganisms is long. The best option is an antibiotic treatment targeted specifically to the detected pathogen. However, t ... more

  • q&more articles

    Expressive

    Coupling biological molecules to surfaces, and using them in this form for measurement procedures, for analysis and in production processes, is a novel approach that is gaining increasing importance in industrial applications. Using established procedures, surfaces and biological molecules ... more

  • Authors

    Prof. Dr. Joachim Jose

    born 1961,studied biology at the University of Saarbrücken, where he was awarded a doctorate. He gained his professorship at the Institute of Pharmaceutical and Medicinal Chemistry of the University of the Saarland. From 2004 to 2011, he was professor for bioanalytics (C3) at the Heinrich-H ... more

q&more – the networking platform for quality excellence in lab and process

The q&more concept is to increase the visibility of recent research and innovative solutions, and support the exchange of knowledge. In the broad spectrum of subjects covered, the focus is on achieving maximum quality in highly innovative sectors. As a modern knowledge platform, q&more offers market participants one-of-a-kind networking opportunities. Cutting-edge research is presented by authors of international repute. Attractively presented in a high-quality context, and published in German and English, the original articles introduce new concepts and highlight unconventional solution strategies.

> more about q&more

q&more is supported by:

 

Your browser is not current. Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 does not support some functions on Chemie.DE