University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine researchers have uncovered a genetic basis for fundamental differences between humans and other vertebrates that could also help explain why humans are susceptible to diseases not found in other species.
Scientists have wondered why vertebrate species, which look and behave very differently from one another, nevertheless share very similar repertoires of genes. For example, despite obvious physical differences, humans and chimpanzees share a nearly identical set of genes.
The team sequenced and compared the composition of hundreds of thousands of genetic messages in equivalent organs, such as brain, heart and liver, from 10 different vertebrate species, ranging from human to frog. They found that alternative splicing — a process by which a single gene can give rise to multiple proteins — has dramatically changed the structure and complexity of genetic messages during vertebrate evolution.
The results suggest that differences in the ways genetic messages are spliced have played a major role in the evolution of fundamental characteristics of species. However, the same process that makes species look different from one another could also account for differences in their disease susceptibility.
"The same genetic mechanisms responsible for a species' identity could help scientists understand why humans are prone to certain diseases such as Alzheimer's and particular types of cancer that are not found in other species," says Nuno Barbosa-Morais, the study's lead author and a computational biologist in U of T Faculty of Medicine's Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research. "Our research may lead to the design of improved approaches to study and treat human diseases."
One of the team's major findings is that the alternative splicing process is more complex in humans and other primates compared to species such as mouse, chicken and frog.
"Our observations provide new insight into the genetic basis of complexity of organs such as the human brain," says Benjamin Blencowe, Professor in U of T's Banting and Best Department of Research and the Department of Molecular Genetics, and the study's senior author.
"The fact that alternative splicing is very different even between closely related vertebrate species could ultimately help explain how we are unique."
The study, "The Evolutionary Landscape of Alternative Splicing in Vertebrate Species", is published in the December 21 issue of Science.
University of Toronto: http://www.utoronto.ca
This press release was posted to serve as a topic for discussion. Please comment below. We try our best to only post press releases that are associated with peer reviewed scientific literature. Critical discussions of the research are appreciated. If you need help finding a link to the original article, please contact us on twitter or via e-mail.
Free-living songbirds show increased stress hormone levels when nesting under white street lights. But different light spectra may have different physiological effects as this study finds, suggesting that using street lights with specific colour spectra may mitigate effects of light pollution on wildlife
Scientists identify the condition aphantasia, in which people cannot create images in their head
The dust in our homes contains an average of 9,000 different types of fungi and bacteria, a study suggests.
A mosquito can bear up to 23 times its total body weight on each leg, which is crucial for landing on water – the insect's secret is way it stands
Tropical species with smaller geographical ranges are more likely to die out in a warming climate than those that can adapt by ‘invading’ new regions
Most people think of bacteria as germs, signs of filth, or unwanted bringers of disease. Slowly, that view …
The gloomy octopuses crowded at Jervis Bay, Australia, appear to spit and throw debris such as shell at each other in what could be an intentional use of weapons
Therapies based on hormones that make us more trusting enhance our natural placebo effect – a finding that could alter the way clinical trials are conducted
The blind, hairless babies born recently at Washington D.C.'s National Zoo are completely dependent on their mothers—who can sometimes accidentally crush them.
The poop-hoarding insects have an amazingly advanced internal GPS that allows them to navigate by day or night.