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Human Thumbs and Upright Walk Caused by Junk DNA

quinnlynn (1343325) writes | more than 6 years ago

Biotech 0

quinnlynn writes "A group of research scientists at Yale has discovered that the evolution of opposable thumbs and upright walking in humans is due to changes in the genome in the areas still classified as "junk DNA":

Results from a comparative analysis of the human, chimpanzee, rhesus macaque and other genomes reported in the journal Science suggest our evolution may have been driven not only by sequence changes in genes, but by changes in areas of the genome once thought of as "junk DNA."

Those changes activated genes in primordial thumb and big toe in a developing mouse embryo, the researchers found.

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Researchers have long suspected changes in gene expression contributed to human evolution, but this had been difficult to study until recently because most of the sequences that control genes had not been identified. In the last several years, scientists have discovered that non-coding regions of the genome, far from being junk, contain thousands of regulatory elements that act as genetic "switches" to turn genes on or off.

A rapidly evolving sequence from the human genome drives gene activity in the developing thumb, wrist and ankle of mouse embryos, suggesting the sequence may have contributed to key evolutionary changes in the human limbs that allowed us to walk upright and use tools.

An indication of their biological importance, many of these non-coding sequences have remained similar, or "conserved," even across distantly related vertebrate species such as chickens and humans. Recent functional studies suggest some of these "conserved non-coding sequences" control the genes that direct human development."

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