From time to time, living cells will accidently make an extra copy of a gene during the normal replication process. Throughout the history of life, evolution has molded some of these seemingly superfluous genes into a source of genetic novelty, adaptation and diversity. A new study shows one way that some duplicate genes could have long-ago escaped elimination from the genome, leading to the genetic innovation seen in modern life. Researchers have shown that a process called DNA methylation can shield duplicate genes from being removed from the genome during natural selection. The redundant genes survive and are shaped by evolution over time, giving birth to new cellular functions. "This is the first study to show explicitly how the processes of DNA methylation and duplicate gene evolution are related," said Soojin Yi, an associate professor in the School of Biology and the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience at the Georgia Institute of Technology. The study was sponsored by the National Science Foundation and was scheduled to be published this week in the online early edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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