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F1000Res. 2017 Jan 19;6:57. doi: 10.12688/f1000research.10079.1. eCollection 2017.

Fact or fiction: updates on how protein-coding genes might emerge de novo from previously non-coding DNA.

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Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity, University of Muenster, Muenster, Germany.


Over the last few years, there has been an increasing amount of evidence for the de novo emergence of protein-coding genes, i.e. out of non-coding DNA. Here, we review the current literature and summarize the state of the field. We focus specifically on open questions and challenges in the study of de novo protein-coding genes such as the identification and verification of de novo-emerged genes. The greatest obstacle to date is the lack of high-quality genomic data with very short divergence times which could help precisely pin down the location of origin of a de novo gene. We conclude that, while there is plenty of evidence from a genetics perspective, there is a lack of functional studies of bona fide de novo genes and almost no knowledge about protein structures and how they come about during the emergence of de novo protein-coding genes. We suggest that future studies should concentrate on the functional and structural characterization of de novo protein-coding genes as well as the detailed study of the emergence of functional de novo protein-coding genes.


De novo protein evolution; de novo genes; gene emergence; novel genes; protein-coding genes

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare that they have no competing interests. No competing interests were disclosed. No competing interests were disclosed. No competing interests were disclosed.

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