Gene Regulation, the driving force in Human Evolution

The headline making some buzz today, “Gene regulation, not just genes, is what sets humans apart,” isn’t the most Earth shattering of a statement the press is making it out to be. Most biologists and physical anthropologists have been holding, for a long time, the opinion that gene regulation is the key reason as to why humans differentiated from our other primate relatives. So the impact of gene regulation in human evolution, is actually pretty common knowledge… it even came up in a discussion on our other blog, Primatology.net way back in March of this year.

Even though we held these thoughts, the findings behind the headline are still important. Just published in Nature Genetics, the findings confirm what we’ve been thinking of all along. The paper, “Promoter regions of many neural- and nutrition-related genes have experienced positive selection during human evolution,” comes from Ralph Haygood, a post-doctoral fellow in Gregory Wray’s laboratory over at Duke University’s Biology department.

“His group looked at the regulatory sequences immediately adjacent to 6,280 genes on the DNA of chimps, humans and the rhesus macaque, a more distant primate relative that has 88 percent the same genes as humans. These regulatory stretches of DNA are where proteins bind to the genome to initiate a gene’s function. And it is here that evolution has apparently fine-tuned the performance of genes, Wray said, resulting in the dramatic differences in the human brain.

Though many studies have looked for significant differences in the coding regions of genes relating to neural system development and failed to find any, the Duke team believes this is the first study to take a genome-wide look at the evolution of regulatory sequences in different organisms.

Other studies have found significant differences between these species in the coding regions… as far back as 1975 when Mary-Claire King and Allan Wilson first said humans and chimps were 99 percent the same genetically, they had offered the suggestion that greater differences might be found in the regulatory regions.

The type of analysis performed by the Duke team couldn’t be done until the macaque genome was published in 2005 because they needed a third, closely related relative to compare the regulatory sequences…

To do a genome-wide analysis of regulatory regions, Haygood and post-doctoral fellow Olivier Fedrigo had to adapt some of the statistical tools used for genome-wide analysis of coding regions. To be sure their results would be robust, they focused on just the most reliably accurate published DNA sequences in common between the three animals, discarding two-thirds of the genome to ensure accuracy. “With only three species, we had to be very stringent about quality,” Fedrigo said.

The researchers don’t think these findings will be of any help resolving questions about how and when the ancestors of humans and chimps diverged on the tree of life…”

With more and more primate genomes being sequenced, experiments like this comparative genomic study, give us evolutionary insights that we couldn’t make from analyzing fossils, behaviors, and artifacts alone. Sometimes these experiments help identify novel genes, and sometimes they confirm what we’ve been thinking all along. In this case, it was the later. Since most primates share at least 90% of the same genetic sequences, it is in the ways genes are activated, regulated, the patterns of their expression and ultimately how and when they play out throughout development, that drive  forward most differences we see in primates.

5 thoughts on “Gene Regulation, the driving force in Human Evolution

  1. Let’s stop the arguments.

    To end the arguments, all the evolutionists have to do is, get their brilliant heads together and assemble a ‘simple’ living cell. This ‘must’ be possible, since they certainly have a very great amount of knowledge about what is inside the ‘simple’ cell.

    After all, shouldn’t all the combined Intelligence of all the worlds scientist be able the do what chance encounters with random chemicals, without a set of instructions, accomplished about 4 billion years ago,according to the evolutionists, having no intelligence at all available to help them along in their quest to become a living entity. Surely then the evolutionists scientists today should be able to make us a ‘simple’ cell.

    If it weren’t so pitiful it would be humorous, that intelligent people have swallowed the evolution mythology.

    Beyond doubt, the main reason people believe in evolution is that sources they admire, say it is so. It would pay for these people to do a thorough examination of all the evidence CONTRARY to evolution that is readily available: Try answersingenesis.org. The evolutionists should honestly examine the SUPPOSED evidence ‘FOR’ evolution for THEMSELVES.

    Build us a cell, from scratch, with the required raw material, that is with NO cell material, just the ‘raw’ stuff, and the argument is over. But if the scientists are unsuccessful, perhaps they should try Mother Earth’s recipe, you know, the one they claim worked the first time about 4 billion years ago, so they say. All they need to do is to gather all the chemicals that we know are essential for life, pour them into a large clay pot and stir vigorously for a few billion years, and Walla, LIFE!

    Oh, you don’t believe the ‘original’ Mother Earth recipe will work? You are NOT alone, Neither do I, and MILLIONS of others!

    PS: Please don’t lie about the ‘first life’ problem, scientists are falling all over themselves to make a living cell. Many have admitted publicly that it is a monumental problem. And is many years away from happening, if ever. Logical people understand this problem and have rightly concluded that an Intelligent Designer was absolutely necessary. Think of it this way, if all the brilliant scientists on earth can’t do it how on earth can anyone believe that it happened by accident?????

  2. James,

    You are no stranger to this site. You’ve shared your argument many times. Let me list them for you in case you forgot:

    Understanding Adaptive Evolution in the Human Genome
    Brainstorming the Future of Primate Brain Evolution Research
    Understanding Adaptive Evolution in the Human Genome

    Your comment hasn’t changed nor have you responded to the facts I rebutted with. Given your history with this site, I will not let you publish this same argument of yours in the future.

    Kambiz

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