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How do new genes appear? For more than a century, researchers have thought that, from time to time, new gene functions evolved after cells accidentally made a copy of one of their existing genes. According to this theory, the 'extra' gene copy could then evolve freely. In this way, it could acquire a new function, while the original gene ensured that the original function was retained. No direct observation supporting this theory has been reported so far. Now, however, researchers at TU Delft have observed this evolutionary mechanism in action for the first time in yeast cells.
The TU Delft researchers were investigating the yeast species Saccharomyces pastorianus, which is used for the production of lager beer by brewers around the world. One characteristic of Saccharomyces pastorianus is that it can 'eat' the complex sugar maltotriose. In 2011, one of this yeast species' ancestors was identified which, it turned out, had not yet developed the ability to consume this complex type of sugar. Therefore, evolution must have conferred the ability to metabolise maltotriose. This evolutionary change makes the brewing of lager beer possible today.
Genes - Everything - Cells - Functions - Genes
Genes are responsible for everything that cells can do. And to gain new functions, new genes are needed. But how do these new genes arise? The main theory to explain the occurrence of new genes is based on a mechanism called gene duplication. In this process, a cell accidentally makes a copy of a given gene. The cell's DNA then contains two copies of this gene. While the original function can be retained by one of the copies, the other can freely change following a different evolutionary path. If enough mutations occur in a gene copy, it can develop a completely new function. If that new function is beneficial to the organism, natural selection will very likely ensure...
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