"Our software considers thousands of evolutionary scenarios to obtain the best guess about when a given gene arose," said Dannie Durand, associate professor of biological sciences at the Mellon College of Science (MCS) at Carnegie Mellon. "This software can help scientists use evolutionary clues to understand what genes do in modern organisms."
For example, using the program, called Notung, investigators now can identify genes that arose very recently. New genes can appear when one gene is duplicated and the second copy evolves to take on a different role inside the cell. In vertebrates, for instance, extra gene copies led to features like paired appendages. New genes often arise in response to environmental stresses, such as pesticides or drugs, and they help the organism to fight back. Over time, gene copies also can be lost.
"You could use this information to plan additional gene studies or suggest strategies for circumventing drug and pesticide resistance in parasites," Durand said. "Other uses could include identifying potential detoxification enzymes for bioremediation and designing breeding programs that would enhance pest resistance in cash crops."
Already, Notung is helping to bridge studies of molecular evolution with laboratory research, according to Durand. Her team has collaborated with a number of scientists studying different multi-drug resistance (MDR) and detoxification genes in several species.
One of Notung's strengths is
Contact: Lauren Ward
Carnegie Mellon University