November 12, 2007

Ultraconservative Genes

No, not genes for neocons, genes that evolutionary change seems to have left alone.

The assumption has long been that any gene sequences that remained the same after millions of years of evolution were so necessary that any modifications would be immediately lethal. That's indeed the case with some ultraconserved genes, like the ones that let us have segmented bodies. (Yay, segmented bodies! I like to take mine out dancing to celebrate its differentiation from a sponge, among other reasons. And let me just add that it's a total travesty to have music that's too loud to talk over *and* no dancing.) But now, a group of scientists have identified four genes we share with mice that are both ultraconserved and seem perfectly safe to knock out of the genome entirely, thereby blowing their own minds.

Wicked trippy, y'all.

Posted by natasha at November 12, 2007 09:16 PM | Science | Technorati links |

Elections in Denmark

Posted by: ccoaler at November 13, 2007 04:06 AM


Posted by: ccoaler at November 13, 2007 05:54 AM

Cool to see some biology on your blog. Nice catch!

Posted by: Bpaul at November 13, 2007 10:47 AM

We do like the biology and the environmental science around here. It isn't all politics, politics, politics, though there's plenty of that.

Posted by: natasha at November 13, 2007 06:19 PM

cc - Actually, in this context, the root 'soma' is misleading. Somatic cells are all of our non-reproductive cells. IOW, everything that isn't a sperm or egg cell is a somatic cell. (I have to admit, I'm not sure into which category adult stem cells fall, but they aren't actually functional tissue cells by their nature, so I don't know.)

The reason it's exciting is because the genome of adult cells is selectively switched off so that only the portion that pertains to being, say, a liver cell, is active and functioning in a given cell. In sex cells, and stem cells, the genome is all on by default. Stem cells are referred to as pluripotent, because they could easily be turned into any type of cell.

But a muscle cell is as much a somatic cell as is a nerve cell in the cerebral cortex. Nothing to do with consciousness, as such.

Posted by: natasha at November 17, 2007 09:29 AM