New genes drive phenotypic evolution through rewiring genetic networks

30 May 2014

Manyuan Long
Department of Ecology and Evolution
University of Chicago


New genes appeared in a species at a certain time during evolution at a locus that did not exist previously, having implications for the emergence of functional novelties in organisms. New gene origination is a general process of evolution in organisms in which diverse molecular mechanisms and various evolutionary forces are at work to shape the genetic machineries in control of phenotypic evolution. Complementary to the conventional conservation-based search of old or ancient genetic components underlying various biological processes or traits, it was recently observed in various organisms that young genes can evolve important functions with critical phenotypic effects, manifesting the indispensable role of new genes in phenotypic evolution. The findings of lineage-specific and species-specific genetic components in important biological processes and structures, e.g., development, brain, behavior and reproduction, defined the species-specific or lineage-specific property of these biological processes and traits, suggesting an unexpectedly vast diversity in genetic systems and biology among organisms. Understanding of biological and evolutionary roles of new genes raised a series of new, interesting and challenging problems, e.g., how is a new gene integrated into an ancestral gene network? How quickly does a new gene rewire or reshape an old genetic network? Do new genes favor as integration sites a certain topological position in genetic networks? What are potential consequences of new gene integration on the phenotypic evolution? Empirical evidence, with theoretical conjecture, will be discussed from the experimental analyses in fruit flies, humans, and other organisms, which offered clues to approach these new problems.

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