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Genome Biol Evol. 2017 Jul 1;9(7):1886-1900. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evx136.

New Genes and Functional Innovation in Mammals.

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Evolutionary Genomics Group, Research Programme in Biomedical Informatics, Hospital del Mar Research Institute (IMIM), Barcelona, Spain.
Institute of Evolutionary Biology (CSIC-Universitat Pompeu Fabra), Barcelona, Spain.
Department of Experimental and Health Sciences, Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF), Barcelona, Spain.
Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA), Barcelona, Spain.


The birth of genes that encode new protein sequences is a major source of evolutionary innovation. However, we still understand relatively little about how these genes come into being and which functions they are selected for. To address these questions, we have obtained a large collection of mammalian-specific gene families that lack homologues in other eukaryotic groups. We have combined gene annotations and de novo transcript assemblies from 30 different mammalian species, obtaining ∼6,000 gene families. In general, the proteins in mammalian-specific gene families tend to be short and depleted in aromatic and negatively charged residues. Proteins which arose early in mammalian evolution include milk and skin polypeptides, immune response components, and proteins involved in reproduction. In contrast, the functions of proteins which have a more recent origin remain largely unknown, despite the fact that these proteins also have extensive proteomics support. We identify several previously described cases of genes originated de novo from noncoding genomic regions, supporting the idea that this mechanism frequently underlies the evolution of new protein-coding genes in mammals. Finally, we show that most young mammalian genes are preferentially expressed in testis, suggesting that sexual selection plays an important role in the emergence of new functional genes.


adaptive evolution; de novo gene; evolutionary innovation; lineage-specific gene; mammals; species-specific gene

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