De-novo Evolution of Genes

Newly evolved genes are expected to have contributed to lineage-specific adaptations throughout evolution. It is now becoming clear that they can be born de novo from non-genic sequences. These processes have been poorly documented and analysed so far, especially in higher eukaryotic systems. Using a combination of comparative genomics and high throughput transcriptomics we aim to gain better knowledge of the properties of the newest genes in the mouse genome.

Status of the project

My lab has a long standing interest in understanding the evolution of lineage specific genes (or orphan genes). The work was initiated by Karl Schmid in my lab, who conducted a systematic screen for fast evolving genes (Schmid and Tautz 1997). This was continued by Tomislav Domazet-Lošo who looked at evolutionary rates of orphan genes, which led to a first concise model for the emergence of orphan genes (the duplication-divergence model). In the course of the analysis of studying selective sweep genes (see Selective sweep analysis) we discovered one gene that had evolved de novo from non-coding sequences and studied its function (Heinen et al. 2009). In parallel, Tomislav Domazet-Lošo developed the concept of phylostratigraphy to systematically describe the emergence of new genes across an evolutionary time-scale (Domazet-Lošo et al. 2007). This and other evidence has led to the insight that de novo evolution of genes is a much more important mechanism for the emergence of new genes than previously suspected (Tautz and Domazet-Lošo 2011).
The current work on the subject is conducted by Rafik Neme (PhD student). He is conducting comparative analyses on gene evolution across large time scales, as well as within the Mus musculus species subgroup.
The work on this topic for the coming years will be funded by an ERC advanced grant and will involve extensive sequencing of related genomes, as well as experimental evolution approaches to understand the emergence of genes from random sequences. Applications for postdoc positions and PhD positions are welcome.

selected publications in the context of this project

  • Schmid, K.J., Tautz, D.  (1997).  A screen for fast evolving genes from Drosophila.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 94, 9746-9750.
  • Heinen, T.J., Staubach, F., Häming, D., Tautz, D. (2009). Emergence of a new gene from an intergenic region. Curr Biology 19, 1527-1531.
  • Domazet-Loso, T., Tautz, D.  (2003).  An evolutionary analysis of orphan genes in Drosophila.  Genome Research, 13, 2213-2219.
  • Domazet-Lošo T., Brajković J., Tautz D. (2007). A phylostratigraphy approach to uncover the genomic history of major adaptations in metazoan lineages. Trends in Genetics 23, 533-539.
  • Tautz, D., Domazet-Loso, T. (2011). The evolutionary origin of orphan genes. Nature Reviews Genetics 12, 692-702.
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