In a step that advances our ability to discern the ancient evolutionary relationships between different genes and their biological functions, researchers have provided insight into the present-day outcome of a single gene duplication that occurred over a hundred million years ago in an ancestor of modern plants. The work is reported in Current Biology by a team led by Brendan Davies of the University of Leeds, England.
Gene duplication--a relatively uncommon event in which a single copy of a gene is transformed into two separate copies--is thought to play a key role in the evolution of new gene functions. Duplications are important because they effectively allow at least one of the gene copies to evolve while the (likely important) function of the original gene can remain intact. In this way, the duplication of pre-existing genetic information provides the raw material from which new gene functions can evolve, thereby contributing to the evolution of genetic complexity and the evolution of sophisticated life forms.
Very many such gene-duplication events have shaped the evolution of today’s living species, but tracing the evolution of a specific single gene over millions of years of evolution--and over potentially several gene-duplication events--can pose a significant challenge. One way in which this can be overcome is for researchers studying a particular modern-day gene to look at neighboring genes in different related species. Genes derived from a common ancestral gene region will still share similarities in neighboring gene sequences, both in terms of gene identity and the order such sequences appear within the chromosome. This kind of preserved gene order is known as genome synteny.
Heidi Hardman | EurekAlert!
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