Networking slows down protein evolution, study reveals

A fundamental principle of biology is that all life evolved from a common microbial ancestor that appeared on Earth billions of years ago. This basic tenet of evolutionary theory has been affirmed by the recent flurry of genome maps showing that a wide variety of species - from yeast to roundworms to humans - carry thousands of virtually identical genes in their DNA.

Thanks to the current genomics revolution, biologists have new tools to document the minute changes a gene undergoes when it evolves from a simple organism to a more complex one. In a study published in the April 26 issue of the journal Science, researchers from Stanford and the University of California-Berkeley compared the genomes of a fungus and a worm - two very different species that share thousands of similar genes, which in turn produce thousands of similar proteins.

``There`s been a flood of genetic information recently,`` said Stanford graduate student Aaron E. Hirsh, lead co-author of the Science study. ``The question is, how do we make sense of it?``

In their Science study, Hirsh and his colleagues analyzed thousands of proteins shared by two organisms - the single-celled yeast, S. cerevisiae, and the more complex roundworm, C. elegans.

Proteins provide a wealth of information about an organism`s evolutionary history. Each protein consists of a chain of molecules called amino acids that are strung together in a specific order dictated by a specific gene.

The amino acid sequence varies in different organisms. For example, a bacterial protein is likely to contain slightly different amino acids than a corresponding human protein - even though both proteins carry out the same biological function in both organisms. These tiny differences in the amino acid sequence provide a record of how the protein changed in bacteria and people over billions of years of evolution.

Yeast and roundworms

Yeast and roundworms have been the subjects of intense i

Contact: Mark Shwartz
Stanford University

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