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1.  Human functional genetic studies are biased against the medically most relevant primate-specific genes 
Many functional, structural and evolutionary features of human genes have been observed to correlate with expression breadth and/or gene age. Here, we systematically explore these correlations.
Gene age and expression breadth are strongly correlated, but contribute independently to the variation of functional, structural and evolutionary features, even when we take account of variation in mRNA expression level. Human genes without orthologs in distant species ('young' genes) tend to be tissue-specific in their expression. As computational inference of gene function often relies on the existence of homologs in other species, and experimental characterization is facilitated by broad and high expression, young, tissue-specific human genes are often the least characterized. At the same time, young genes are most likely to be medically relevant.
Our results indicate that functional characterization of human genes is biased against young, tissue-specific genes that are mostly medically relevant. The biases should not be taken lightly because they may pose serious obstacles to our understanding of the molecular basis of human diseases. Future studies should thus be designed to specifically explore the properties of primate-specific genes.
PMCID: PMC2970608  PMID: 20961448
2.  Amino acid composition in endothermic vertebrates is biased in the same direction as in thermophilic prokaryotes 
Among bacteria and archaea, amino acid usage is correlated with habitat temperatures. In particular, protein surfaces in species thriving at higher temperatures appear to be enriched in amino acids that stabilize protein structure and depleted in amino acids that decrease thermostability. Does this observation reflect a causal relationship, or could the apparent trend be caused by phylogenetic relatedness among sampled organisms living at different temperatures? And do proteins from endothermic and exothermic vertebrates show similar differences?
We find that the observed correlations between the frequencies of individual amino acids and prokaryotic habitat temperature are strongly influenced by evolutionary relatedness between the species analysed; however, a proteome-wide bias towards increased thermostability remains after controlling for phylogeny. Do eukaryotes show similar effects of thermal adaptation? A small shift of amino acid usage in the expected direction is observed in endothermic ('warm-blooded') mammals and chicken compared to ectothermic ('cold-blooded') vertebrates with lower body temperatures; this shift is not simply explained by nucleotide usage biases.
Protein homologs operating at different temperatures have different amino acid composition, both in prokaryotes and in vertebrates. Thus, during the transition from ectothermic to endothermic life styles, the ancestors of mammals and of birds may have experienced weak genome-wide positive selection to increase the thermostability of their proteins.
PMCID: PMC2939578  PMID: 20807394
3.  Does negative auto-regulation increase gene duplicability? 
A prerequisite for a duplication to spread through and persist in a given population is retaining expression of both gene copies. Yet changing a gene's dosage is frequently detrimental to fitness. Consequently, dosage-sensitive genes are less likely to duplicate.
However, in cases where the level of gene product is controlled, via negative feedback, by its own abundance, an increase in gene copy number can in principle be decoupled from an increase in protein while both copies remain expressed. Using data from the transcriptional networks of E. coli and S. cerevisiae, we test the hypothesis that genes under negative auto-regulation show enhanced duplicability.
Controlling for several known correlates of duplicability, we find no statistically significant support in either E. coli or S. cerevisiae that transcription factors under negative auto-regulation hold a duplicability advantage over transcription factors with no auto-regulation.
Based on the analysis of transcriptional networks in E. coli and S. cerevisiae, there is no evidence that negative auto-regulation has contributed, on a genome-wide scale, to the variability in gene family sizes in these species.
PMCID: PMC2739200  PMID: 19664220
4.  Genome-wide acceleration of protein evolution in flies (Diptera) 
The rate of molecular evolution varies widely between proteins, both within and among lineages. To what extent is this variation influenced by genome-wide, lineage-specific effects? To answer this question, we assess the rate variation between insect lineages for a large number of orthologous genes.
When compared to the beetle Tribolium castaneum, we find that the stem lineage of flies and mosquitoes (Diptera) has experienced on average a 3-fold increase in the rate of evolution. Pairwise gene comparisons between Drosophila and Tribolium show a high correlation between evolutionary rates of orthologous proteins.
Gene specific divergence rates remain roughly constant over long evolutionary times, modulated by genome-wide, lineage-specific effects. Among the insects analysed so far, it appears that the Tribolium genes show the lowest rates of divergence. This has the practical consequence that homology searches for human genes yield significantly better matches in Tribolium than in Drosophila. We therefore suggest that Tribolium is better suited for comparisons between phyla than the widely employed dipterans.
PMCID: PMC1369000  PMID: 16436210
5.  Unusual linkage patterns of ligands and their cognate receptors indicate a novel reason for non-random gene order in the human genome 
Prior to the sequencing of the human genome it was typically assumed that, tandem duplication aside, gene order is for the most part random. Numerous observers, however, highlighted instances in which a ligand was linked to one of its cognate receptors, with some authors suggesting that this may be a general and/or functionally important pattern, possibly associated with recombination modification between epistatically interacting loci. Here we ask whether ligands are more closely linked to their receptors than expected by chance.
We find no evidence that ligands are linked to their receptors more closely than expected by chance. However, in the human genome there are approximately twice as many co-occurrences of ligand and receptor on the same human chromosome as expected by chance. Although a weak effect, the latter might be consistent with a past history of block duplication. Successful duplication of some ligands, we hypothesise, is more likely if the cognate receptor is duplicated at the same time, so ensuring appropriate titres of the two products.
While there is an excess of ligands and their receptors on the same human chromosome, this cannot be accounted for by classical models of non-random gene order, as the linkage of ligands/receptors is no closer than expected by chance. Alternative hypotheses for non-random gene order are hence worth considering.
PMCID: PMC1309615  PMID: 16277660

Results 1-5 (5)