Scientists present evidence for groundbreaking evolution theory

Jul 14, 2011

The popular belief among scientists that certain sequences of DNA are relatively unimportant in the evolutionary process has been turned on its head by two Murdoch University researchers.

PhD student Keith Oliver and Associate Professor Wayne Greene have spent the last two years gathering a wealth of evidence which proves that what are commonly known as jumping genes are actually driving the evolutionary process in some species.

Jumping genes are of DNA that can move to new positions within the of a cell. This movement can create and therefore change the observable characteristics of a species.

Their latest scientific paper on the idea brings together around 100 examples of where the activity of jumping genes have created or greatly-modified and , resulting in the generation of well-known primate-specific traits.

“Visual red-green colour perception, faster brain function, better foetal nutrition in the womb along with a more assertive placenta and better infectious disease resistance are just some of the evolutionary advances in primates brought about by jumping genes,” said A/Prof Greene, who is Academic Chair of Biomedical Science.

“In fact, it’s very hard to see how primates and humans could have evolved in the way they have, without the intervention of jumping genes.”

Mr Oliver and A/Prof Greene have further developed their theory into four modes that help shed light on why evolution sometimes occurs in fits and starts, sometimes gradually and sometimes hardly at all. Therefore, their jumping gene theory helps to explain a number of mysteries in biology, including why species suddenly appear in the fossil record, why some groups of organisms are species-rich and others are species-poor.

“Lineages with active jumping genes or large uniform populations of them spawn new species readily because they possess a greater ability to evolve, diversify and survive. An example of this is bats,” said Mr Oliver.

“But species which are deficient in jumping genes or with inactive jumping genes tend to risk extinction because they lack the capacity to adapt, change and diversify. The so-called ‘living fossils’ like the fish coelacanth and the reptile tuatara are good examples.

“It also helps to explain why some species change little over millions of years like these living fossils. And why almost all species do not eliminate this junk from their genomes.”

A/Prof Greene said he and Mr Oliver are hoping their jumping gene theory is further tested across different by researchers in the field.

“With this work we are unquestionably standing on the shoulders of others that have worked on jumping genes, but we are certainly the first to bring all their work together for what we believe is the most persuasive case ever put forward on the pivotal role of in evolution.”

A/Prof Greene and Mr Oliver first published their jumping gene theory in the prestigious BioEssays journal in 2009. The second paper with evidence for their claims was recently published in the Mobile DNA journal.

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Provided by Murdoch University

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User comments : 7

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NANOBRAIN
2.3 / 5 (3) Jul 14, 2011
Thank you for helping humanity.The best is the best.
paul
FrankHerbert
3.4 / 5 (17) Jul 14, 2011
In before "god did it."
Nyloc
3.5 / 5 (6) Jul 14, 2011
This would suggest to me that species with "jumping genes" would demonstrate frequent dramatic mutations, both advantageous and disadvantageous. Does the data suggest that species such as primates exhibit more mutations than the norm? This would result in many failed 'experiments', with tragic consequences. Be glad you're normal!
Donutz
3.5 / 5 (6) Jul 14, 2011
In before "god did it."


How many points to you get for each win? :-)

Hey, maybe those of you more professionally involved in Biological Sciences can help me out here. This article doesn't strike me as new information. We've known about genes moving around for a relatively long time, and it shouldn't require much effort to figure out that this would cause mutations. So what's the big deal here? Is it just that they've formalized the theory? Or that they've published a list of specific instances?
LuckyBrandon
not rated yet Jul 14, 2011
@nyloc-a good example...cancer is pretty disadvantageous...in fact, many numerous different types are....
gwargh
5 / 5 (5) Jul 14, 2011
Hey, maybe those of you more professionally involved in Biological Sciences can help me out here. This article doesn't strike me as new information. We've known about genes moving around for a relatively long time, and it shouldn't require much effort to figure out that this would cause mutations. So what's the big deal here? Is it just that they've formalized the theory? Or that they've published a list of specific instances?

The latter mostly. Transposons have been known to be important in evolution for a while now, and the common thought was that they provide a quick source of pseudogenes and fairly complex mutations. These guys are "simply" showcasing examples where transposons can be directly linked to novel traits. Simply is a bit of an understatement considering the amount of work needed to get that done.
malapropism
5 / 5 (2) Jul 15, 2011
@Donutz & gwargh
Yes, and the other important part of the research is that they appear to have been able to show a direct causative connection between both the number and activity of transposons in an species' genome and the ability to produce speciation to fill different available environmental niches. That's quite impressive.
@Nyloc
This may have more impact in terms of early terminations. For example, we humans have a remarkably poor rate of successful post-conception live births and this is due, in a fairly large part, to genetic anomalies that cause spontaneous abortion within the first few weeks after conception, often without the mother even having been aware of the conception occurring. Admittedly, these are frequently gross genetic problems like trisomy or fragile-x, etc but I'd suppose that transposons could be part of this too.

The majority of cancer deaths occur after reproductive age so it seems less likely to be important in an evolutionary sense. I'm speculating tho.