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  1. Abstract Comparative genomic studies have repeatedly shown that new protein-coding genes can emerge de novo from noncoding DNA. Still unknown is how and when the structures of encoded de novo proteins emerge and evolve. Combining biochemical, genetic and evolutionary analyses, we elucidate the function and structure of goddard , a gene which appears to have evolved de novo at least 50 million years ago within the Drosophila genus. Previous studies found that goddard is required for male fertility. Here, we show that Goddard protein localizes to elongating sperm axonemes and that in its absence, elongated spermatids fail to undergo individualization. Combining modelling, NMR and circular dichroism (CD) data, we show that Goddard protein contains a large central α -helix, but is otherwise partially disordered. We find similar results for Goddard’s orthologs from divergent fly species and their reconstructed ancestral sequences. Accordingly, Goddard’s structure appears to have been maintained with only minor changes over millions of years.
  2. Malik, Harmit S. (Ed.)
    Comparative genomics has enabled the identification of genes that potentially evolved de novo from non-coding sequences. Many such genes are expressed in male reproductive tissues, but their functions remain poorly understood. To address this, we conducted a functional genetic screen of over 40 putative de novo genes with testis-enriched expression in Drosophila melanogaster and identified one gene, atlas , required for male fertility. Detailed genetic and cytological analyses showed that atlas is required for proper chromatin condensation during the final stages of spermatogenesis. Atlas protein is expressed in spermatid nuclei and facilitates the transition from histone- to protamine-based chromatin packaging. Complementary evolutionary analyses revealed the complex evolutionary history of atlas . The protein-coding portion of the gene likely arose at the base of the Drosophila genus on the X chromosome but was unlikely to be essential, as it was then lost in several independent lineages. Within the last ~15 million years, however, the gene moved to an autosome, where it fused with a conserved non-coding RNA and evolved a non-redundant role in male fertility. Altogether, this study provides insight into the integration of novel genes into biological processes, the links between genomic innovation and functional evolution, and the genetic controlmore »of a fundamental developmental process, gametogenesis.« less
  3. New genes arise through a variety of mechanisms, including the duplication of existing genes and the de novo birth of genes from noncoding DNA sequences. While there are numerous examples of duplicated genes with important func- tional roles, the functions of de novo genes remain largely unexplored. Many newly evolved genes are expressed in the male reproductive tract, suggesting that these evolutionary innovations may provide advantages to males experiencing sexual selection. Using testis-specific RNA interference, we screened 11 putative de novo genes in Drosophila mela- nogaster for effects on male fertility and identified two, goddard and saturn, that are essential for spermatogenesis and sperm function. Goddard knockdown (KD) males fail to produce mature sperm, while saturn KD males produce few sperm, and these function inefficiently once transferred to females. Consistent with a de novo origin, both genes are identifiable only in Drosophila and are predicted to encode proteins with no sequence similarity to any annotated protein. However, since high levels of divergence prevented the unambiguous identification of the noncoding sequences from which each gene arose, we consider goddard and saturn to be putative de novo genes. Within Drosophila, both genes have been lost in certain lineages, but show conserved, male-specificmore »patterns of expression in the species in which they are found. Goddard is consistently found in single-copy and evolves under purifying selection. In contrast, saturn has diversified through gene duplication and positive selection. These data suggest that de novo genes can acquire essential roles in male reproduction.« less