Scientists discover resurrection of dead gene during course of human evolution

March 6th, 2009 - 1:18 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, March 6 (ANI): In a new study, scientists have discovered that a long-defunct gene was resurrected during the course of human evolution.

The study, led by Evan Eichlers genome science laboratory at the University of Washington and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, has provided the first evidence of a doomed gene infection-fighting human IRGM making a comeback in the human/great ape lineage.

The truncated IRGM gene is one of only two genes of its type remaining in humans.

The genes are Immune-Related GTPases, a kind of gene that helps mammals resist germs like tuberculosis and salmonella that try to invade cells.

Unlike humans, most other mammals have several genes of this type.

Medical interest in this gene ignited recently, when scientists associated specific IRGM mutations with the risk of Crohns disease, an inflammatory digestive disorder.

In this latest study, the researchers reconstructed the evolutionary history of the IRGM locus within primates.

They found that most of the gene cluster was eliminated by going from multiple copies to a sole copy early in primate evolution, approximately 50 million years ago.

Comparisons of Old World and New World monkey species suggest that the remaining copy died in their common ancestor.

The gene remnant continued to be inherited through millions of years of evolution.

Then, in the common ancestor of humans and great apes, something unexpected happened. Once again, the gene could be read to produce proteins.

Evidence suggests that this change coincided with a retrovirus insertion in the ancestral genome.

The IRGM gene was dead and later resurrected through a complex series of structural events, Eichler said. These findings tell us that we shouldnt count a gene out until it is completely deleted, he added. (ANI)

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