Ares lab publishes study finding convergent evolution of gene regulation in humans and mice

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Organisms that aren't closely related may evolve similar traits as they adapt to similar challenges. It's called convergent evolution, and familiar examples include the wings of birds, bats, and insects, and echolocation in bats and dolphins. Now, molecular biologists have found evidence of convergent evolution in an important mechanism of gene regulation in humans and mice.

The new study, published January 15 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was led by researchers in Manny Are's lab at UC Santa Cruz and the Maquat lab at University of Rochester Medical Center. They described a complex system that regulates the same genes in the same way in both species, yet evolved independently in the two lineages.

In both cases, the regulatory system involves noncoding RNA (sequences not translated into protein molecules) with origins in DNA segments randomly inserted into the genome by "jumping genes" (retrotransposons).

"This study highlights the importance of noncoding RNA and transposable elements in the regulation of gene expression and in the evolution of gene expression networks in mammalian genomes," said coauthor Manuel Ares, professor of molecular, cell, and developmental biology at UC Santa Cruz.

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