The explosion of "junk" DNA in animals, plants and fungi may be the simple result of their ancestors reduced population sizes, according to a new hypothesis proposed by Indiana University Bloomington and University of Oregon scientists in the Nov. 21 issue of Science.
The hypothesis explains a mysterious genetic difference between bacteria and eukaryotes, a giant group of organisms that includes animals, plants, fungi, algae and other protists. Bacteria tend to have extremely lean genomes; their genes barely fit into them, without much genetic material left over. Eukaryotic genomes are a complex mixture of useful genes and useless ("junk") DNA jammed haphazardly between genes and even within them.
"The evolution of genomic complexity is inevitable," said IUB biologist Michael Lynch, who led the study. "Its just that in bacteria, there is a pressure against it -- natural selection -- which works more efficiently when population sizes are big. Eukaryotes have much smaller population sizes compared to bacteria, and we believe this is the main reason junk DNA sequences are still with us."
David Bricker | EurekAlert!
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