Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Leaky Genes Put Evolution on the Fast Track, Pitt and UW-Madison Researchers Find

The team traced the development of a unique feature in a species of fruit fly that began with low-level gene activity and became a distinct feature in a mere four mutations as an existing gene took on a new function, according to a report in PNAS

Small genetic mutations that add up over time could create an evolutionary express lane that leads to the rapid development of new traits, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Wisconsin at Madison have found.

The team reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that slight changes in segments of DNA known as transcriptional enhancers—which determine the when, where, and how much in gene production—can activate dormant genetic imperfections. These alterations awaken specific genes to low-level activity, or “leakiness,” in developing tissue different from the genes’ typical location. Just a few subsequent mutations build on that stirring to result in a new function for an old gene—and possibly a novel trait.

Coauthor Mark Rebeiz [Ra-BAYS], a professor of biological sciences in Pitt’s School of Arts and Sciences, and his colleagues traced how a certain unwitting gene found itself in the unique optical neurons of a species of fruit fly. They found that tiny alterations in the transcriptional enhancers of the species’ ancestor caused the gene to take root in these neurons for the first time. A couple of mutations later and the gene became a permanent fixture in the fly’s brain cells. Rebeiz worked with coauthors Sean Carroll, professor of molecular biology and genetics at the UW-Madison; Nick Jikomes, an undergraduate researcher in Carroll’s laboratory; and Victoria Kassner, a research associate in Carroll’s lab.

The Pitt-UW Madison work expands on research during the past 30 years demonstrating that new genes made from scratch are rare in animals, Rebeiz said. Instead, the diversity of living things is thought to stem from existing genes showing up in new locations. In a famous example of the lack of originality in animal genes, researchers at the University of Basel in Switzerland reported in Science in 1995 that a gene known as PAX6, a “master control” gene for the formation of eyes and other features in flies, mice, and humans, could cause the growth of additional eyes on the legs and antennae of fruit flies.

With their report in PNAS, Rebeiz and his coauthors offer the first explanation of what makes these genes go astray in the first place—and they identified the deviant DNA as the culprit.

The researchers found that the gene Neprilysin-1 present in the optical neurons of the fruit fly species Drosophilia santomea emerged in that location about 400,000 years ago—a blip in evolutionary terms—in the last common ancestor the fly shared with its relative D. yakuba. The mutation began with a transcriptional enhancer for the gene, which caused Neprilysin-1 to show up in different neurons than usual.

From there, Rebeiz said, the development of D. santomea’s distinguishing neurons plays out with the clarity of a film as four mutations in subsequent generations intensify the errant enhancer’s impact until Neprilysin-1’s presence in optical neurons become an exclusive feature of D. santomea. On the other hand, ensuing genetic alterations in D. yakuba actually extinguished this new expression and restored that fly’s Neprilysin-1 to its original location.

“It has been long appreciated that nature doesn’t make anything from scratch, but the mystery has remained of how genes that have been performing the same job for hundreds of millions of years are suddenly expressed in new places,” Rebeiz said. “Our work shows that even slight mutations in a transcriptional enhancer can cause leaky gene activity, which can initiate a short route to the development of new traits.”

Morgan Kelly | EurekAlert!
Further information:

Further reports about: DNA Evolution Neprilysin-1 PNAS Pitt vaccine brain cell fruit fly genes genetic mutation specific gene

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>