The National Institutes of
Health has awarded a UT Arlington researcher nearly $670,000 to continue
examining the genomic structure of male fruit flies for clues about the way
reproductive functions evolve.
Esther Betrán, an associate
professor in the UT Arlington Biology Department, has proposed a scientific
model in which gene duplication rapidly changes the function and
characteristics of the testes tissue of the Drosophila, or fruit fly, while
leaving the genomic structure of other tissues unchanged.
The new grant will help Betrán test
her theory that duplicate genes become fixed in the genome as long as they perform
new and beneficial functions for male reproduction. She’ll also explore how quickly
these changes occur and how the genes manage to express only in testes by
examining the evidence left behind in the genome of current species.
“With previous research we’ve
proven that these duplicate genes can develop new functions that are not the
same as the parent gene that they came from,” said Betrán, who previously
received $750,000 in NIH funding for her work. “We now think that in some cases
this new function may be only good for sperm tissue and we want to study that.
It may tell us about how male fertility is built and keeps changing at a fast
pace and with high gene turnover and about how differences between species develop.”
The Drosophila genome contains
about 14,000 genes. By comparison, the human genome contains 20,000 to 25,000
genes. Researchers believe the way genome architecture evolves may be similar
in many species. Gene duplications that occur in the germline are believed to
be a significant driver in evolution. Germline cells contain genetic material
that passes to the next generation.
work going on in Dr. Betran's lab could reveal a new role for gene
duplications," said Pamela Jansma, dean of the College
of Science. "Her
continued funding reaffirms the importance of expanding understanding about how
basic genetic functions develop over time."
If proven correct, Betrán’s
model could bring about a paradigm shift in how scientists believe “sexually
antagonistic conflicts” are resolved in the genome. Sexually antagonistic
conflict occurs when a gene’s expression is good for one sex but not for
Betrán’s laboratory is part of
UT Arlington’s Genome Biology Group. She studies the origin of new genes, new
functions and their role in genome evolution, adaptation and species differences.
Her work has been published and cited in numerous scientific journals, such as
Nature and Science.
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