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Evolution of complexity recreated using 'molecular time travel'
Date:1/8/2012

components is a ring that transports hydrogen ions across membranes. In most species, the ring is made up of a total of six copies of two different proteins, but in fungi a third type of protein has been incorporated into the complex.

To understand how the ring increased in complexity, Thornton and his colleagues "resurrected" the ancestral versions of the ring proteins just before and just after the third subunit was incorporated. To do this, the researchers used a large cluster of computers to analyze the gene sequences of 139 modern-day ring proteins, tracing evolution backwards through time along the Tree of Life to identify the most likely ancestral sequences. They then used biochemical methods to synthesize those ancient genes and express them in modern yeast cells.

Thornton's research group has helped to pioneer this molecular time-travel approach for single genes; this is the first time it has been applied to all the components in a molecular machine.

The group found that the third component of the ring in Fungi originated when a gene coding for one of the subunits of the older two-protein ring was duplicated, and the daughter genes then diverged on their own evolutionary paths.

The pre-duplication ancestor turned out to be more versatile than either of its descendants: expressing the ancestral gene rescued modern yeast that otherwise failed to grow because either or both of the descendant ring protein genes had been deleted. In contrast, each resurrected gene from after the duplication could only compensate for the loss of a single ring protein gene.

The researchers concluded that the functions of the ancestral protein were partitioned among the duplicate copies, and the increase in complexity was due to complementary loss of ancestral functions rather than gaining new ones. By cleverly engineering a set of ancestral proteins fused to each other in specific orientations, the group showed that the duplicat
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Contact: John Easton
john.easton@uchospitals.edu
773-795-5225
University of Chicago Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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