Scientists have recently identified as many as one hundred and fifty-five genes in the human lineage that arose spontaneously from small sections within the DNA.
Are humans still evolving, or has human evolution come to an end? The evolution of life on Earth is considered by many a miracle. As far as we know, Earth is the only world in the universe where life as we know it has risen into existence. Whether this is the case remains to be seen as scientists hunt for traces of life on other worlds. The evolution of humans is of peculiar interest. It is believed that modern humans diverged from our ancient ancestors some 7 million years ago.
Are humans evolving?
Throughout the years, it was believed that humans had stopped evolving. However, a new study shows this is not the case. Scientists have recently identified as many as one hundred and fifty-five genes in the human lineage that arose spontaneously from small sections within the DNA. Some of these micro genes are predicted to be associated with different diseases in humans.
The project behind the new study can be traced back to 2017 when scientists and the first author of the study Nikolaus Vakirilis decided to look into the evolution of new genes and their origin. As explained by the scientist, the researchers created an ancestral tree by taking previously published datasets of functionally relevant new genes. It compares humans to other vertebrate species. They traced the relationship of these genes throughout evolution and found 155 that arose from regions of unique DNA. Interestingly, new genes can arise from duplication events that already exist in the genome; however, these genes came out of nowhere.
155 new genes discovered
Of these 155 new genes, 44 were associated with growth defects in cell culture. This demonstrates these genes’ importance in maintaining a healthy living system. Since these genes are specific to humans, it makes direct testing difficult. Therefore, researchers must find another way to explore what effects these new genes may have on the body. Vakirlis and her team examined patterns found in DNA that may indicate whether these genes play a role in specific diseases.
Three interesting genes
Three of the 155 new genes have disease-associated DNA markers. These connect to conditions such as muscular dystrophy, retinitis pigmentosa, and Alazami syndrome. In addition to the disease, the authors also found a new gene associated with human heart tissue. This gene arose in humans and chimpanzees just after the species had split from gorillas. It shows how quickly a gene can evolve to become essential to the body. The paper was published in the journal Cell Reports.