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Emerging 'R&D' patterns in genes may reduce evolution's risks

the exterior of the cell. Examples include the proteins that help cells stick to surfaces, proteins that help create a sheath that is the outermost boundary of a cell, and proteins that are emitted by cells.

Scientists grouped the proteins into families and "superfamilies."

"Proteins are in the same family if they have essentially the same modular organization along their length," Hedgecock explains. "They're made of the same parts in the same order. Superfamilies are a higher structural class, and that only means that the proteins share an individual domain, but they may differ--be unrelated--outside of that."

While noting that the human genome is not completely sequenced yet, researchers reported finding some families and superfamilies of proteins present in C. elegans and other roundworms that are absent in the human genome. Families and superfamilies, they concluded, are being created throughout evolutionary history.

"The big surprise, though, is evidence that old superfamilies can be remarkably stable alongside a new family being created," Hedgecock says. "The old idea was that all the genes of the genome were subject to similar mutational processes, so roughly speaking, the older you were as a gene family, the more opportunity you had to duplicate, to disperse in the genome, and to diverge from one another."

The very oldest superfamilies should be the largest, the most dispersed, the most diverged, and the fastest-growing in size, he explains. But the team's analysis found that once superfamilies are established, they can be very stable even if they're beside a dynamic, young expanding family of proteins.

By analyzing the organization of the genes, looking at the pattern of genetic material actually used to build proteins, and studying a database of genes with known mutations in C. elegans, the researchers found a pattern of two kinds of regions in the DNA: areas with long-established genes with advantageous properties, and area
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Contact: Michael Purdy
mcp@jhu.edu
410-516-7160
Johns Hopkins University
9-Feb-2000


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