genomics lite: evolution and proteins in focus

Exploring how new genes and proteins evolve

This session will explore how new proteins evolve, how studying bacteria can give an insight into the origin of genes, and how scientists study hypothetical proteins. We’ll also discuss the career journey of our speaker. 

Our guest speaker for genomics lite: evolution and proteins in focus is Zachary Ardern. Zachary is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in the Sanger Epidemiological and Evolutionary Dynamics programme.

Session Recording:

Genomics Lite in Focus is a programme of live webinars to inspire and engage upper secondary school students, teachers and other educational groups. Each talk explores a different field in biology in focus, highlighting how genomics research contributes to understanding the topic.

Each 75 minute session includes a 30 minute talk on the topic, a 15 minute talk about the speakers career journey, and time for Q&A with the audience. Polls and audience questions are used throughout to encourage interaction betweent the audience and the speaker. 

Learn more about how genes and proteins evolve

These resources are designed to support and further attendees' understanding of proteins and evolution, and are aimed at students in upper secondary years (e.g. year 10 and higher).

A downloadable learning resources PDF is available at the bottom of this page.

How do genes and proteins evolve?

  • The Central Dogma in biology describes the flow of genetic information from DNA (in the form of genes), to RNA, to proteins. Because of this, changes (mutations) at the DNA level can have large impacts on the protein product’s function.
  • There are two main ways that changes in the DNA can create a new gene and a new protein - duplication and recombination.
    • If a gene gets duplicated, one version of the gene might mutate enough to be functionally different from the original (known as diverging). 
    • Recombination involves an exchange of stretches of DNA between different chromosomes, or different parts of the same chromosome. This most commonly occurs during meiosis.
  • Scientists have recently discovered a third way for new genes and proteins to evolve, called ‘de novo’ (or ‘new’) genes. Unlike the other ways, this creates new genes from previously non-coding regions of DNA.

How can we study the evolution of proteins and genes?

  • Comparative genomics uses genome sequencing techniques to compare the genomes of different species, genes or proteins.
  • Comparative genomics can help scientists identify homologous genes - genes that have a shared ancestor. These genes might be paralogs - genes that have been duplicated and often diverged from each other - or orthologs - genes found in different species following speciation.
  • Bioinformatics tools - like BLAST - can help scientists compare genes and proteins between species to look for similarities. Use this Function Finders: BLAST! activity to try out the tool.