Newly evolved genes: Moving from comparative genomics to functional studies in model systems

How important is genetic novelty for species adaptation and diversification?



Genes are gained and lost over the course of evolution. A recent study found that over 1,800 new genes have appeared during primate evolution and that an unexpectedly high proportion of these genes are expressed in the human brain. But what are the molecular functions of newly evolved genes and what is their impact on an organism's fitness? The acquisition of new genes may provide a rich source of genetic diversity that fuels evolutionary innovation. Although gene manipulation experiments are not feasible in humans, studies in model organisms, such as Drosophila melanogaster, have shown that new genes can quickly become integrated into genetic networks and become essential for survival or fertility. Future studies of new genes, especially chimeric genes, and their functions will help determine the role of genetic novelty in the adaptation and diversification of species.