Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Discovery Of Novel Genes Could Unlock Mystery Of What Makes Us Uniquely Human

Date:
September 2, 2009
Source:
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Summary:
Humans and chimpanzees are genetically very similar, yet it is not difficult to identify the many ways in which we are clearly distinct from chimps. In a new study, scientists have made a crucial discovery of genes that have evolved in humans after branching off from other primates, opening new possibilities for understanding what makes us uniquely human.

A baby chimp (Pan troglodytes) and his handler looking at each other.
Credit: iStockphoto/Warwick Lister-Kaye

Humans and chimpanzees are genetically very similar, yet it is not difficult to identify the many ways in which we are clearly distinct from chimps. In a study published online in Genome Research, scientists have made a crucial discovery of genes that have evolved in humans after branching off from other primates, opening new possibilities for understanding what makes us uniquely human.

The prevailing wisdom in the field of molecular evolution was that new genes could only evolve from duplicated or rearranged versions of preexisting genes. It seemed highly unlikely that evolutionary processes could produce a functional protein-coding gene from what was once inactive DNA.

However, recent evidence suggests that this phenomenon does in fact occur. Researchers have found genes that arose from non-coding DNA in flies, yeast, and primates. No such genes had been found to be unique to humans until now, and the discovery raises fascinating questions about how these genes might make us different from other primates.

In this work, David Knowles and Aoife McLysaght of the Smurfit Institute of Genetics at Trinity College Dublin undertook the painstaking task of finding protein-coding genes in the human genome that are absent from the chimp genome. Once they had performed a rigorous search and systematically ruled out false results, their list of candidate genes was trimmed down to just three. Then came the next challenge. "We needed to demonstrate that the DNA in human is really active as a gene," said McLysaght.

The authors gathered evidence from other studies that these three genes are actively transcribed and translated into proteins, but furthermore, they needed to show that the corresponding DNA sequences in other primates are inactive. They found that these DNA sequences in several species of apes and monkeys contained differences that would likely disable a protein-coding gene, suggesting that these genes were inactive in the ancestral primate.

The authors also note that because of the strict set of filters employed, only about 20% of human genes were amenable to analysis. Therefore they estimate there may be approximately 18 human-specific genes that have arisen from non-coding DNA during human evolution.

This discovery of novel protein-coding genes in humans is a significant finding, but raises a bigger question: What are the proteins encoded by these genes doing? "They are unlike any other human genes and have the potential to have a profound impact," McLysaght noted. While these genes have not been characterized yet and their functions remain unknown, McLysaght added that it is tempting to speculate that human-specific genes are important for human-specific traits.

Scientists from the Smurfit Institute of Genetics, Trinity College Dublin (Dublin, Ireland) contributed to this study.

This work was supported by a President of Ireland Young Researcher Award from Science Foundation Ireland.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Knowles DG, McLysaght A. Recent de novo origin of human protein-coding genes. Genome Research, 2009; DOI: 10.1101/gr.095026.109

Cite This Page:

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. "Discovery Of Novel Genes Could Unlock Mystery Of What Makes Us Uniquely Human." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 September 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090901172832.htm>.
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. (2009, September 2). Discovery Of Novel Genes Could Unlock Mystery Of What Makes Us Uniquely Human. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090901172832.htm
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. "Discovery Of Novel Genes Could Unlock Mystery Of What Makes Us Uniquely Human." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090901172832.htm (accessed April 18, 2014).

Share This



More Health & Medicine News

Friday, April 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Scientists Create Stem Cells From Adult Skin Cells

Scientists Create Stem Cells From Adult Skin Cells

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2014) The breakthrough could mean a cure for some serious diseases and even the possibility of human cloning, but it's all still a way off. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Obama: 8 Million Healthcare Signups

Obama: 8 Million Healthcare Signups

AP (Apr. 17, 2014) President Barack Obama gave a briefing Thursday announcing 8 million people have signed up under the Affordable Care Act. He blasted continued Republican efforts to repeal the law. (April 17) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Is Apathy A Sign Of A Shrinking Brain?

Is Apathy A Sign Of A Shrinking Brain?

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2014) A recent study links apathetic feelings to a smaller brain. Researchers say the results indicate a need for apathy screening for at-risk seniors. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Even Casual Marijuana Use Alter Your Brain?

Could Even Casual Marijuana Use Alter Your Brain?

Newsy (Apr. 16, 2014) A new study conducted by researchers at Northwestern and Harvard suggests even casual marijuana use can alter your brain. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins