Sunday, October 19, 2008

Disease genes older than previously thought

The New Scientist brought my attention to some recent research with some interesting results.

The disease legacy of our distant ancestors

GENETIC diseases such as diabetes and Huntington's disease may be an evolutionary hangover from our primitive ancestors. This surprising discovery might make it possible to study human diseases in fish and insects - unlikely as that seems - as well in the more usual mice.

To discover when disease-related genes emerged in humans, Tomislav Domazet-Loao from the Ruder Boakovic Institute in Zagreb, Croatia, and colleagues compared our genome with that of organisms as diverse as bacteria and primates, which come from different stages in the evolution of living species.

The team found that we have inherited a far greater proportion of disease-related genes from organisms that evolved early on than from our closer relatives, such as rodents or other primates, although they don't yet know why. For example, while a massive 40 per cent of our genes come from bacteria, the proportion of disease genes that come from bacteria is even larger, at 60 per cent.

So, if there is an intelligent designer involved, we have to conclude that he, she, or it, wants us to suffer, and has been working on this for a long time.

No, seriouslty, this might result in some good changes on how research is done, as it would indicate that it's possible to do research on species that are further from our species than previously thought. Currently, mice is often the species of choice, but instead species like zebrafish, or perhaps even bacteria, can be used.

The study is published in Molecular Biology and Evolution as An ancient evolutionary origin of genes associated with human genetic diseases by Tomislav Domazet-Loso and Diethard Tautz, and is accessible for download.

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