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Evolution and genomics

In the Literature.

Here GNN posts abstracts to articles about evolutionary and genomic approaches to biological research. The articles are related to the feature story Setting the Record Straight: Two studies find no evidence that humans have acquired genes directly from bacteria.


Human genetic disorders, a phylogenetic perspective.

When viewed from the perspective of time, human genetic disorders give new insights into their etiology and evolution. Here, we have correlated a specific set of Alu repetitive DNA elements, known to be the basis of certain genetic defects, with their phylogenetic roots in primate evolution. From a differential distribution of Alu repeats among primate species, we identify the phylogenetic roots of three human genetic diseases involving the LPL, ApoB, and HPRT genes. The different phylogenetic age of these genetic disorders could explain the different susceptibility of various primate species to genetic diseases. Our results show that LPL deficiency is the oldest and should affect humans, apes, and monkeys. ApoB deficiency should affect humans and great apes, while a disorder in the HPRT gene (leading to the Lesch-Nyhan syndrome) is unique to human, chimpanzee, and gorilla. Similar results can be obtained for cancer. We submit that de novo transpositions of Alu elements, and saltatory appearances of Alu-mediated genetic disorders, represent singularities, places where behavior changes suddenly. Alus' propensity to spread, not only increased the regulatory and developmental complexity of the primate genome, it also increased its instability and susceptibility to genetic defects and cancer. The dynamic spread not only provided markers of primate phylogeny, it must have actively shaped the course of that phylogeny. Copyright 2001 Academic Press.

J Mol Biol 2001 May 11;308(4):587-96.

Predicting adaptive evolution.

Phylogenetic trees reconstruct past evolution and can provide evidence of past evolutionary pressure on genes and on individual codons. In addition to tracing past evolutionary events, molecular phylogenetics might also be used to predict future evolution. Our ability to verify adaptive hypotheses using phylogenetics has broad implications for vaccine design, genomics and structural biology.

Nat Rev Genet 2001 May;2(5):387-92.

The human olfactory subgenome: from sequence to structure and evolution.

Olfactory receptors (ORs) constitute the largest multigene family in multicellular organisms. Their evolutionary proliferation has been driven by the need to provide recognition capacity for millions of potential odorants with arbitrary chemical configurations. Human genome sequencing has provided a highly informative picture of the "olfactory subgenome", the repertoire of OR genes. We describe here an analysis of 224 human OR genes, a much larger number than hitherto systematically analyzed. These are derived by literature survey, data mining at 14 genomic clusters, and by an OR-targeted experimental sequencing strategy. The presented set contains at least 53% pseudogenes and is minimally divided into 11 gene families. One of these (no. 7) has undergone a particularly extensive expansion in primates. The analysis of this collection leads to insight into the origin of OR genes, suggesting a graded expansion through mammalian evolution. It also allows us to delineate a structural map of the respective proteins. A sequence database and analysis package is provided (, which will be useful for analyzing human OR sequences genome-wide.

Hum Genet 2001 Jan;108(1):1-13.

Genome data: what do we learn?

Genome sequence information has continued to accumulate at a spectacular pace during the past year. Details of the sequence and gene content of human chromosome 22 were published. The sequencing and annotation of the first two Arabidopsis thaliana chromosomes was completed. The sequence of chromosome 3 from Plasmodium falciparum, the second sequenced malaria chromosome, was reported, as was that of chromosome 1 from Leishmania major. The complete genomic sequences of five microbes were reported. Approaches to using data from completely sequenced microbial genomes in phylogenetic studies are being explored, as is the application of microarrays to whole genome expression analysis.

Curr Opin Struct Biol 2000 Jun;10(3):343-8.

Nested clade analyses of phylogeographic data: testing hypotheses about gene flow and population history.

Since the 1920s, population geneticists have had measures that describe how genetic variation is distributed spatially within a species' geographical range. Modern genetic survey techniques frequently yield information on the evolutionary relationships among the alleles or haplotypes as well as information on allele frequencies and their spatial distributions. This evolutionary information is often expressed in the form of an estimated haplotype or allele tree. Traditional statistics of population structure, such as F statistics, do not make use of evolutionary genealogical information, so it is necessary to develop new statistical estimators and tests that explicitly incorporate information from the haplotype tree. One such technique is to use the haplotype tree to define a nested series of branches (clades), thereby allowing an evolutionary nested analysis of the spatial distribution of genetic variation. Such a nested analysis can be performed regarding the geographical sampling locations either as categorical or continuous variables (i.e. some measure of spatial distance). It is shown that such nested phylogeographical analyses have more power to detect geographical associations than traditional, nonhistorical analyses and, as a consequence, allow a broader range of gene-flow parameters to be estimated in a precise fashion. More importantly, such nested analyses can discriminate between phylogeographical associations due to recurrent but restricted gene flow vs. historical events operating at the population level (e.g. past fragmentation, colonization, or range expansion events). Restricted gene flow and historical events can be intertwined, and the cladistic analyses can reconstruct their temporal juxtapositions, thereby yielding great insight into both the evolutionary history and population structure of the species. Examples are given that illustrate these properties, concentrating on the detection of range expansion events.

Mol Ecol 1998 Apr;7(4):381-97.

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