More on the origination of new protein-coding genes

June 25, 2008

Recently, we learned of an instance of the de novo origination of a new protein-coding gene in yeasts. This instance involved a mechanism or pathway that seems difficult to some, namely the random appearance of an open reading frame in an otherwise noncoding segment of DNA via judicious appearance of translation start and stop codons. The question naturally arises as to the relevance of such a pathway to real-life biology; was/is this a rather rare event that doesn’t really contribute to protein evolution, or is it a common means by which the protein-coding capacity of a genome is augmented?

A paper that is in press in Genome Research (Zhou et al., “On the origin of new genes in Drosophila”) gives us some insight into this question. The abstract of this paper summarizes things as well as I can:

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