De novo genes: starting to solve the mystery of their origins

  A new collaboration amongst scientists at different centres at the PRBB, with Mar Albà from the IMIM as leading author, has come up with a new mechanism for explaining the formation of de novo genes. Although commonly new genes arise by gene duplication and diversification of the copy, some genes appear in genomic regions which did not previously contain any gene, as compared with other species. How do these genes originate from nothing? In a preprint submitted to arXiv.org the authors propose – based on transcriptomic comparisons between humans and three other mammals – that first new regulatory motifs/promoters appeared in … Continue reading De novo genes: starting to solve the mystery of their origins

El·lipse: Last edition of 2013!

The 2nd CEXS-UPF Symposium on Evolutionary Biology that took place in November at the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park (PRBB) opens this edition of El·lipse, the park’s monthly newspaper. Also on the topic of evolution, Salvador Carranza (IBE) tells us about his research on reptile phylogeny. Other news include new findings on senescence and embryo development, lung cancer diagnosis, ‘mini-kidneys’ created from human stem cells, the benefits of long-term breastfeeding, new molecules involved in metastasis or computational models to decipher biological problems. On a more personal note, Baldomero Oliva (UPF) tells us about his scientific career and the secret to become … Continue reading El·lipse: Last edition of 2013!

Common causes of complex diseases between Europeans and Asians

Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have revolutionized the field of complex disease genetics in the last six years. Many disease associations (i.e. genetic variants that increase risk for a specific disease) have been detected using this technique, but the reported variants tend to explain only small fractions of risk. Also, the causal variants that generate the associations unveiled by GWAS have not been identified. And their frequency and degree of sharing across different ethnical populations remains unknown. Arcadi Navarro, from the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (UPF-CSIC), set out to study the degree of sharing of disease-associated variants across populations, in order … Continue reading Common causes of complex diseases between Europeans and Asians

From one to billions of cells – new techniques to understand our origins

The transition from single-celled organisms to multicellular animals (metazoans) is one of the most mysterious open questions in biology. To understand the mechanisms involved in this transition it is vital to study the closest unicellular relatives of metazoans. But the analyses on these protists have been severely limited by the lack of transgenesis tools and the difficulty in culturing these simple organisms. In this article published in Developmental Biology, the Multicellgenome lab the led by Iñaki Ruiz-Trillo at the IBE (CSIC-UPF) presents the first techniques of cell transformation and gene silencing developed in a close relative of metazoans, the ichthyosporean … Continue reading From one to billions of cells – new techniques to understand our origins

Studying how evolution has shaped our genome- Arcadi Navarro (UPF) explains

In this video you can hear Arcadi Navarro, from the Institute for Evolutionary Biology (IBE), a mixed centre from the CSIC and the Pompeu Fabra University (UPF). His group studies how evolution has shaped our genomes and those from other … Continue reading Studying how evolution has shaped our genome- Arcadi Navarro (UPF) explains

“It is a privilege to live off what you love”

An interview published in Ellipse, the monthly magazine of the PRBB. Mar Albà is a biologist who has moved from the lab to the computer and the analysis of the genome. After five years in England, she joined the UPF with a Ramon y Cajal contract, and since 2005 she is an ICREA Research Professor. Currently she coordinates the group of Evolutionary Genomics at the GRIB (IMIM/UPF) and the subject ‘Principles of Genome Bioinformatics’ at the master of Bioinformatics at the UPF. Since several months she has added motherhood to those tasks. What memories do you have from your PhD?  It … Continue reading “It is a privilege to live off what you love”

“The discovery of giant viruses was revolutionary”

An interview recently published in Ellipse, the monthly magazine of the PRBB, by Maruxa Martínez-Campos.   What is a virus?  We used to think we knew. Before we discovered giant viruses, size was central to the definition of a virus: 0.3 micrometer filters were used to isolate microorganisms, and anything smaller than that which was infectious, was a virus. So giant viruses were a bit of a surprise?  We discovered them by mistake. No biologist studying viruses could have discovered them, because the first thing they did was to discard anything that wasn’t filtered. We were working on intracellular parasitic bacteria … Continue reading “The discovery of giant viruses was revolutionary”

Studying two very particular ethnic groups: from Pygmies to Basques

Pygmies, everyone knows, present the lowest height among humans – adult men grow to less than 150 cm. One can find pygmy populations not only in Africa, but also in Australia, Brazil and several countries in Asia. The fact that populations in such diverse locations all have short stature in common suggests the presence of strong selective pressures on this phenotype, but this has never been proved. David Comas and colleagues from the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (IBE: CSIC-UPF) have recently published in the journal Human Genetics the first genetic hint of adaptive evolution in the African Pygmy phenotype. They have developed a … Continue reading Studying two very particular ethnic groups: from Pygmies to Basques

The importance of being a highly conserved non-coding region

Yesterday Gill Bejerano (Stanford University) gave a talk at the PRBB in which he advocated the key role of highly conserved non-coding regions, in particular in the context of evolution. He explained there are only about 20,000 human genes, but more than 1,000,000 genome ‘switches’, short DNA regions which control which genes are expressed and at what levels. And the so-called ‘gene deserts’, areas of the genome with very few genes in them, are actually very rich in these conserved non-coding elements which act as cis-regulators of gene expression. So, as he said, perhaps more than gene deserts they should be … Continue reading The importance of being a highly conserved non-coding region