Evolution Linked To A Small Part Of The Human Genome

The Human Genome
(Photo : Getty Images/Mario Tama) A digital representation of the human genome.

The human genome is nature's blueprint for building a human being. Homo sapiens have about 20,000 to 25,000 genes, uncovered by the Human Genome Project, made up of DNA. Research has revealed that how genes are used by the body might be more important to human evolution than previously thought, reports Science News.

Associate Professor Adam Siepel, along with a team from the Department of Computer Science and the Department of Biological Statistics and Computational Biology at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., developed a new computational method to analyze how natural selection has changed the genome since the chimpanzee-human evolutionary split between five million and seven million years ago.

"Remarkably we use nearly the same building blocks as chimpanzees, but we end up with very different results," said Brad Gulko, Ph.D. student in Siepel's laboratory. 

Previous research focused on parts of our DNA that produced proteins, large complex molecules responsible for the structure, function and regulation of the body, such as enzymes and antibodies. Changing a protein might have an impact on the way an organism behaves: some changes are harmful to an organism and not passed onto offspring.

However, only about 1.5 percent of the genome is responsible for making proteins. This research found only 9 percent of the DNA associated with evolution is in protein-coding regions of the genome we share with other species. Over 50 percent of the signs of evolution were in intergenic regions, or the DNA between genes. Introns, which is DNA not involved in coding proteins, accounted for 35 percent of evolutionary signs. Both of these regions of DNA participate in controlling gene activity.

The outcome of this study suggests changes in how genes are used is involved in human evolution and natural selection instead of soley changing genes and the proteins that are coded by them. 

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