“If we could discover gene sequences with biological activity, at least minimal, we could control and apply new functions to biotechnological industries.”
These were the words of Universidad Nacional de Colombia (UNal) Biologist and PhD in Evolutionary Geneticist Rafik Neme on the new opportunities when discovering new nature mysteries which help organisms modify themselves with materials or components they did not have before.
The traditional idea in Biology is that things recycle and all living things came from an original large family at the beginning of life. According to this theory during the last 4,000 million years of evolution there would not be absolute innovations but just copies with gene modifications.
However recent research seems to contradict the prior. In exceptional conditions and undetermined time periods (months, few generations to thousands of years) functional content could be produced from something that lacked content.
Currently Neme along with German and American researchers are devoted to understanding these evolutionary processes and trying to produce experimental processes to achieve these types of results at the laboratory level.
The starting point was research on mice, fish and human genomes, particularly on “orphan genes” or genes particular to a species.
This has opened the door to explain the existence of genes which are dissimilar to other genes. Many of them are product of sequences that have not produced genes in the past and that thanks to mutations they have acquired the capability to act as genes. These types of molecules are known as protogenes and represent great potential of a genome to produce innovation.
Scientists are focused on understanding the mechanisms by which these genes are produced. The first step in to infer the evolutionary age (when each gene appeared in history) and then compare the properties of these genes at different ages. This leads to observing how younger genes differentiate from the rest and has enabled understanding their “birth” and “growth” processes.
For example younger genes have high change over: in other words many are produced but also many are eliminated. During this process organisms are capable of continually producing novelties, as if this was a kind of brainstorming when many are produced but only a few which solve issues are maintained.
This research has demonstrated how every species has a constant production of new genes which organisms may use to face new challenges. Therefore this opens the door to obtain laboratory artificial genes which can help solve punctual issues.
New genes have great restrictions precisely because they are produced by chance without a large selection process. In fact some may be harmful and others simply inefficient. Therefore nature is then in charge of adapting them to the environment.
With this in mind new possibilities emerge to discover what functional elements genes have and how they may be used. With certain biological activity scientists could discover proteins which may be beneficial.
“Beyond this perspective, we will be capable of understanding how nature is able of obtaining useful elements from that that does not have any function,” he said.
The research carried out by Neme was showcased during the conference entitled: “Origen and evolution of new genes: Absolute innovation at the molecular scale.”
Agencia Noticias UNAL |