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Weizmann Institute scientists discover: A 'risk distribution law' for evolution
Date:11/1/2007

Prof. Naama Barkai will receive the Helen and Martin Kimmel Award for Innovative Investigation on Monday, Nov. 5 at the Weizmann Institute. The award is accompanied by a research grant of a million dollars over five years.

Taking a chance on an experiment this is one of the impulses that drive evolution. Living cells are, from this angle, great subjects for experimentation: Changes in one molecule can have all sorts of interesting consequences for many other molecules in the cell. Such experiments on genes and proteins have led the cell, and indeed all life, on a long and fascinating evolutionary journey.

Prof. Naama Barkai of the Weizmann Institutes Molecular Genetics Department recently took a look at gene expression the process in which the encoded instructions are translated into proteins and the evolution of mechanisms in the cell for controlling that expression. Changes in genes, and thus in protein structure, are a double-edged sword: They can give cells new abilities or advantages for survival, but they can also spell disease or death for the organism. Not all genes evolve at the same rate. Indeed, some have been conserved through long stretches of evolution: Similar versions of some genes are found in yeast, plants, worms, flies and humans. When do cells hold on to specific gene sequences, and when do they allow evolution to experiment with them"

Clearly, highly conserved genes fulfill some basic, universal function for all life, and changes in their sequences have drastic consequences, involving death or the inability to multiply. How does evolution 'decide' which genes need to be conserved, and which it can change freely" What keeps these genes safe from the ongoing experimentation thats constantly carried out on other genes"

Barkai and her team discovered a sort of 'risk distribution law' for evolution. They found that a genetic 'phrase' that regularly shows up in the promoter region of genes (the bit of
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Contact: Yivsam Azgad
news@weizmann.ac.il
972-893-43856
Weizmann Institute of Science
Source:Eurekalert

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