Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Study shows how young genes become essential for life

07.06.2013
Researchers from UConn and other institutions in the U.S. and abroad have shown how a relatively young gene can acquire a new function and become essential to an organism's life.

Using a combination of techniques, including phylogenetics, molecular biology, and video microscopy, the scientists show that a novel essential gene in fruit flies, born via the process of gene duplication, is only 15 million years old and yet has acquired, in a stepwise fashion, a new job so important that the flies can't live without it. The study is published in the June 6 edition of Science.


This is imagery of cells dividing, recorded from video microscopy. The image on the left depicts normal cell division in a fruit fly cell. The cell on the right has had the Umbrea gene removed, and has failed to divide normally, resulting in cell death.

Credit: Photos courtesy Barbara Mellone

"The majority of these genes are not going to acquire essential functions" of genes that, like the one they studied, have been duplicated, says Barbara Mellone, assistant professor of molecular and cell biology in UConn's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "But the interaction network is completely rewired for this gene."

Mellone and her colleagues at the University of Washington, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, and the University of Munich traced the evolutionary steps by which a gene from the well-known fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, known as Umbrea, acquired its essential role. The gene is vital to chromosome segregation, the process of splitting genetic material when cells divide to generate more cells, tissues, and organisms.

"The genus Drosophila offers an unprecedented system in which to study gene evolution because of the detailed evolutionary and genomic data available," says Mellone. "Learning about how new genes acquire new functions is crucial to understanding how whole genomes undergo functional innovation, which is what is needed for new traits to appear in populations that natural selection can act upon."

What puzzled the scientists is that Umbrea plays the role of strengthening the connections between chromosomes, making sure that chromosome segregation happens correctly. And although it is also present in other species of fruit fly, it's not essential in all of them. How then could a gene that has only been around for a fraction of this species' history have acquired such an essential role?

To understand this paradox, the researchers used gene sequencing to understand the gene's history and captured video of cells with Umbrea removed dividing under a microscope in Mellone's laboratory. Their methods showed that after its birth, Umbrea was lost in some of the species, but in one species, Drosophila melanogaster, cells without it failed to segregate chromosomes correctly, confirming its critical role.

But their results also showed that several stepwise changes led to Umbrea's current-day time in the limelight: it lost its previous, nonessential function; the network of proteins it interacts with was completely rewired, and it acquired new, "tail" domains on the ends of its sequence that allowed it to relocate to the centromere, a structure present on all chromosomes in all species, necessary for genome segregation during cell division.

"This gene emerged and wasn't going either way, toward or away from essential function," says Mellone. "Then something happened elsewhere to help make it essential."

The researchers argue that although most duplicated genes either become non-functional or are simply lost, keeping some of them around might benefit cells in the long run.

"Centromere proteins experience rapid evolution in many organisms, including humans, in a constant 'arms race' that exists to maintain the equal segregation of genetic traits," says Mellone.

So if the genes involved in genome partitioning are evolving so fast, then perhaps it's a good idea to keep other, nonfunctional genes around – those that can acquire new essential functions when necessary.

The scientists suggest that this could change the way scientists think about other biological processes that may require recurrent genetic innovation to adapt to new challenges.

Christine Buckley | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.uconn.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Unique genome architectures after fertilisation in single-cell embryos
30.03.2017 | IMBA - Institut für Molekulare Biotechnologie der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften GmbH

nachricht Transport of molecular motors into cilia
28.03.2017 | Aarhus University

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: A Challenging European Research Project to Develop New Tiny Microscopes

The Institute of Semiconductor Technology and the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, both members of the Laboratory for Emerging Nanometrology (LENA), at Technische Universität Braunschweig are partners in a new European research project entitled ChipScope, which aims to develop a completely new and extremely small optical microscope capable of observing the interior of living cells in real time. A consortium of 7 partners from 5 countries will tackle this issue with very ambitious objectives during a four-year research program.

To demonstrate the usefulness of this new scientific tool, at the end of the project the developed chip-sized microscope will be used to observe in real-time...

Im Focus: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

'On-off switch' brings researchers a step closer to potential HIV vaccine

30.03.2017 | Health and Medicine

Penn studies find promise for innovations in liquid biopsies

30.03.2017 | Health and Medicine

An LED-based device for imaging radiation induced skin damage

30.03.2017 | Medical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>