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Gene evolution reversed

Primordial vertebrate gene reconstructed by fusing its descendants

Chandra Shekhar
Time travel may be possible, at least in a laboratory -- researchers have reconstructed a now-extinct vertebrate gene that split into parts 500 million years ago. During the study, published this week in Developmental Cell, researchers replaced two mouse genes with a synthesized "ancestral" version that contains parts of both. "The most striking finding was that we succeeded in 'simplifying' the mouse genome," said Petr Tvrdik, lead author of the study. "We could replace two genes that are obviously essential by a single, bifunctional gene."Tvrdik and his coauthor Mario Capecchi, both at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, focused on the mouse Hoxa1 and Hoxb1 genes, the two most significant descendants of the ancient vertebrate Hox1 gene. The Hox family of genes, all of which have between two and four paralogs in modern vertebrates, play an essential role in embryo development. The...

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