With increasing numbers of whole genomes being sequenced, researchers are keen to analyse the functions of the genes they contain and the proteins these genes encode. Yet, according to researchers writing in BMC Biology, to fully understand any genome, researchers must use palaeontology, geology and chemistry to help them discover the reasons why specific genes evolved.
Steven Benner and Eric Gaucher at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution, Frank and Rosalie Simmen at the University of Arkansas, and their colleagues from the United States and Norway used a diverse array of disciplines to investigate why the pig, Sus scrofa, has three different genes that encode the enzyme aromatase – an enzyme that catalyses the transformation of androgens, such as testosterone, into estrogens - whereas other hooved animals have only one.
The evidence that they collected suggests that the additional aromatase genes arose as a result of natural selection for pigs with larger litters than their ancestors. These larger litters may well have helped the animals to survive the dramatic cooling of the earth that started during the Oligocene period, around 35 million years ago.
Gemma Bradley | alfa
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