A gene passed on by fathers that plays a vital role in helping fertilised eggs to develop into adults has helped scientists overturn the idea that essential genes have always been part of the genetic makeup of a species.
The research, published in the journal Current Biology tomorrow (26 January 2005), shows that an essential ‘paternal effect’ gene was created only recently in the evolutionary history of the fruit fly, Drosophila. This finding is remarkable because it shows that new genes with new functions - including essential functions - can evolve at any time.
The researchers made the discovery as part of a project to produce the first molecular genetic characterisation of a paternal effect gene. Paternal effect genes are important because without them a fertilised egg cannot develop into an adult. Similar genes are most likely present in other animals, including humans. Using molecular techniques, the researchers found that the Drosophila paternal effect gene they were characterising was only present in the melanogaster sub-group of fruit fly, but its progenitor, or ancestor, was present in all of the different sub-groups. Using statistical information about the rate at which genes evolve, the researchers worked out that the gene was only about 1-2 million years old, and much younger than the majority of the genes in the remainder of the fruit fly genome.
Andrew McLaughlin | alfa
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