Researcher studies gene families to explore diversity and evolution

Aug 01, 2006

Theoretical biologist Stephen Proulx studies gene families to explore how genomes become diverse and evolve. The Iowa State University assistant professor uses mathematical tools and computer models to determine how environmental and evolutionary factors -- like seasonal change, migration and sexual preference -- structure a genome.

One path to diversity in a genome involves the proliferation of genes into multi-gene families.

"The growth of a gene family can occur through rare errors in DNA replication," Proulx said. "Sometimes in error, a single gene is duplicated on a chromosome, and the duplicated copy can emerge as a new functional gene. Although that gene may have a new function, it's not fundamentally different from the original gene."

Proulx wants to be able to explain that process. "We also want to know if changing the size of gene families is a way by which an organism becomes more complex," he said.

In a recent paper published in the journal Evolution, Proulx and colleague Patrick Phillips, professor, University of Oregon, Eugene, show that the process of gene family expansion can begin even before a gene is duplicated. The first step in the process involves specialization of different variants of a gene that can then take on different functions once the gene is duplicated by chance.

The article was recently featured as a "Hidden Jewel" on the Faculty of 1000 Web site, a journal review site that posts expert opinions on current research papers. Proulx thinks it has generated considerable interest in the biological community because it shows how the process of adaptation can play a role in generating organismal complexity.

Proulx's model calculates the exact conditions under which evolutionary pressures cause genes to diverge.

"One of the things I'm trying to do is provide an ecological and environmental context for genome evolution," he said. "And what I continue to see is that these ecological factors can play a really large role."

Source: Iowa State University of Science and Technology

Explore further: Salmon forced to 'sprint' less likely to survive migration

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

One Codex in open beta for genomic data search

4 hours ago

Data, data everywhere and now as ever researchers need the best tools to make the data useful. In medicine, searching through genomic data can take some time. A startup called One Codex hopes to make difference ...

After breakups, newspapers seek path forward

5 hours ago

Following an unprecedented series of spinoffs by major US media companies, the print news industry now faces a rocky future without financial support from deep-pocketed parent firms.

Recommended for you

Orb-weaving spiders living in urban areas may be larger

8 hours ago

A common orb-weaving spider may grow larger and have an increased ability to reproduce when living in urban areas, according to a study published August 20, 2014 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Eli ...

User comments : 0