A recurrent theme amongst ID proponents is the supposed difficulty of protein evolution, especially as it relates to the origination of new protein-coding genes. This is, I suspect, a key reason why ID proponents such as Paul Nelson are so enamoured of ORFans, and a foundational principle for the application of ID theory to evolution (the idea being that protein-coding genes are possessed of Complex Specified Information, and thus cannot arise by natural processes). Thus, studies that pertain to the origins of new protein-coding genes are going to factor largely in the scientific aspect of the ID debate, especially since ID proponents insist that new protein-coding genes cannot arise “by chance”.
It is in this context that a recent study by Jing Cai and colleagues is of interest. The title of the article suffices to explain the study – “De novo Origination of a New Protein-Coding Gene in Saccharomyces cerevisiae”. What these authors describe is a series of studies of a yeast gene, BSC4. This gene was originally identified as a candidate containing a so-called read-through translation termination (or stop) codon. This gene was studied in more depth, whereupon Cai et al. found that the protein encoded by this gene was novel in genome databases, not resembling any other protein in any organism. Importantly, this includes the genomes of related Saccharomyces species; this indicates that this protein in S. cerevisiae arose relatively recently, after this species diverged from its close relatives.