Tag Archive: Gene


A team of geneticists has announced that they have successfully bred fruit flies with the capacity to count.

After repeatedly subjecting fruit flies to a stimulus designed to teach numerical skills, the evolutionary geneticists finally hit on a generation of flies that could count — it took 40 tries before the species’ evolution occurred.

The findings, announced at the First Joint Congress on Evolutionary Biology in Canada, could lead to a better understanding of how we process numbers and the genetics behind dyscalculia — a learning disability that affects a person’s ability to count and do basic arithmetic.

“The obvious next step is to see how [the flies’] neuro-architecture has changed,” said geneticist Tristan Long, of Canada’s Wilfrid Laurier University, who admits far more research is needed to delve into what the results actually mean. Primarily, this will involve comparing the genetic make-up of an evolved fruit fly with that of a standard test fly to pinpoint the mutation.

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Giving ancient life another chance to evolve

Using a process called paleo-experimental evolution, Georgia Tech researchers have resurrected a 500-million-year-old gene from bacteria and inserted it into modern-day Escherichia coli(E. coli) bacteria. This bacteriumhas now been growing for more than 1,000 generations, giving the scientists a front row seat to observe evolution in action.

“This is as close as we can get to rewinding and replaying the molecular tape of life,” said scientist Betül Kaçar, a NASA astrobiology postdoctoral fellow in Georgia Tech’s NASA Center for Ribosomal Origins and Evolution. “The ability to observe an ancient gene in a modern organism as it evolves within a modern cell allows us to see whether the evolutionary trajectory once taken will repeat itself or whether a life will adapt following a different path.”

In 2008, Kaçar’s postdoctoral advisor, Associate Professor of Biology Eric Gaucher, successfully determined the ancient genetic sequence of Elongation Factor-Tu (EF-Tu), an essential protein in E. coli. EFs are one of the most abundant proteins in bacteria, found in all known cellular life and required for bacteria to survive. That vital role made it a perfect protein for the scientists to answer questions about evolution.

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Scientists have identified the gene which may have driven the crucial step in evolution where man learned to talk.

By duplicating itself two and a half million years ago the gene could have given early human brains the power of speech and invention, leaving cousins such as chimpanzees behind.

The gene, known as SRGAP2, helps control the development of the neocortex – the part of the brain responsible for higher functions like language and conscious thought.

Having an extra copies slowed down the development of the brain, allowing it to forge more connections between nerve cells and in doing so grow bigger and more complex, researchers said.

In a study published in the Cell journal, the scientists reported that the gene duplicated about 3.5 million years ago to create a “daughter” gene, and again a million years later creating a “granddaughter” copy.

Although humans and chimpanzees separated six million years ago, we still share 96 per cent of our genome and the gene is one of only about 30 which have copied themselves since that time.

The first duplication was relatively inactive but the second occurred at about the time when primitive Homo separated from its brother Australopithecus species and began developing more sophisticated tools and behaviours.

Evan Eichler at the University of Washington, who led the research, said the benefit of the duplication would have been instant, meaning human ancestors could have distanced themselves from rival species within a generation.

He said: “This innovation could not have happened without that incomplete duplication. Our data suggest a mechanism where incomplete duplication of this gene created a novel function ‘at birth’.”

Source: Telegraph

The gene PTEN is a tumor suppressor, making it one of the best genes to have in the fight against cancer. But the latest research suggests that preventing cancer is just the beginning of all the amazing things this gene can do.

Usually, the phrase “too much of a good thing” is all over medical science — even if something is beneficial at one dosage, there’s zero guarantee that increasing the dosage will make it even better. But the initial research on PTEN suggests that it might be a rare exception… at least, if you’re a mouse. Crucially, it seems that tumor suppressor genes aren’t simply about stopping cancer, and their full range of benefits is just waiting to be unlocked.

Researchers at the Spanish National Cancer Research Center recently conducted an experiment in which they gave some mice an extra dose of the PTEN gene. In both mice and humans, PTEN is one of the key genes responsible for controlling cell growth, and signalling cells when it’s time stop dividing and undergo cell death. As cancer starts to spread, the PTEN gene is one of the first to be destroyed so that the cancerous cells can start their runaway growth, and thus the tumor forms.

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Scientists have succeeded in forming a “feedback loop” between a computer and a common yeast to precisely control the switching on and off of specific genes.

The computer controlled flashes of light to start and stop this gene expression, “learning” how to reach and maintain a set value.

The groundbreaking approach could find use in future efforts to control biological processes, such as the production of biofuel from microbes.

The approach is a comparatively simple means to take control of fantastically complex biochemical processes to achieve a desired result.

“The neat thing about this is that there are many people who have tried to do things like this by, for example, coding in the cell itself a synthetic circuit, putting genes and mechanisms in the cell,” said co-author John Lygeros, of the Automatic Control Laboratory at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich.

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