Thursday, December 20, 2007

When Losing Genes Can Be A Good Thing

Apparently, the loss of certain genes can move evolution in different directions:

One previously unknown loss, the gene for acyltransferase-3 (ACYL3), particularly caught [the researchers'] attention. "This is an ancient protein that exists throughout the whole tree of life," said Zhu. Multiple copies of the ACYL3 gene are encoded in the fly and worm genomes. "In the mammalian clade there is only one copy left, and somewhere along primate evolution, that copy was lost."

"In our analysis, we found that this gene contains a nonsense mutation in human and chimp, and it appears to still look functional in rhesus," said Sanborn. Further, they found that the mutation is not present in the orangutan, so the gene is probably still functional in that species.

"On the evolutionary tree leading to human, on the branch between chimp and orangutan sits gorilla," explained Sanborn. Knowing if the gene was still active in gorilla would narrow down the timing of the loss.

The inability to manufacture Vitamin C in higher primates certainly must have led to a change in diet that continued on with early hominid evolution. Fruitful research. Hat tip to the ASA.

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