Resurrecting ancient genes is now allowing scientists to peer into the genetic causes of primeval evolutionary processes, writes Joseph Thornton in the May issue of Nature Reviews Genetics.
DNA is very fragile, so 'molecular fossils' seldom survive long enough to reveal their secrets. But using a new technique called ancestral gene resurrection, scientists can now infer the sequences of genes over a billion years old, synthesize them biochemically, and characterize their functions in the laboratory. This strategy has recently been used to answer fascinating and diverse evolutionary questions, including how dinosaurs were able to see at night, how the ancestors of all bacteria were able to survive a very hot environment, and how new hormones evolved in the ancestors of all modern-day animals.
The gene resurrection strategy, a recent marriage of advanced computational and genetic methods, allows scientists to experimentally test hypotheses about evolution that would otherwise have remained speculation. It is expected to become the 'gold standard' for research in molecular evolution.
Joseph W. Thornton Center
University of Oregon
Tel: +1 541 346 0328
(C) Nature Reviews Genetics press release.
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