Genetic Variation
Old Genes, New Tricks

Old Genes, New Tricks

For decades, scientists have understood that the process of evolution involves changes in protein-coding genes: mutations can change a gene's instructions, making it code for a protein with a slightly different function.

The modification of gene switches provides another avenue for evolutionary change. Often just a few base pairs long, switches regulate the timing, location, and level of protein expression—without affecting the protein itself. Small changes to switches can produce dramatic outcomes.

The evolution of new physical structures requires new genes.

Evolution frequently reuses old genes in new ways.

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HHMI Holiday Lecture Connections

From Butterflies to Humans, 13:23 - 16:18

Dr. Sean Carroll describes the role of wing spots in fruit fly courtship behavior.

From Butterflies to Humans, 21:06 - 22:54

New patterns evolve when old genes learn new tricks. Dr. Sean Carroll describes how this concept applies to wing spots in fruit flies.

Fossils, Genes, and Embryos, 45:42 - 48:39

David Kingsley describes the role of Pitx1 gene regulatory switches in stickleback development.


Doebley, J., Stec, A. & Hubbard, L. (1997). The evolution of apical dominance in maize. Nature, 386, 485-488 (subscription required).

Gompel, N., Prud'homme, B., Wittkopp, P. J., Kassner, V. A. & Carroll, S. B. (2005). Chance caught on the wing: cis-regulatory evolution and the origin of pigment patterns in Drosophila. Nature, 433, 481-487 (subscription required).

Prud'homme, B., Gompel, N., Rokas, A., Kassner, V. A., Williams, T. M., Yeh, S., True, J. R. & Carroll, S. B. (2006). Repeated morphological evolution through cis-regulatory changes in a pleiotropic gene. Nature, 440, 1050-1053 (subscription required).

Shapiro, M. D., Bell, M. A. & Kingsley, D. M. (2006). Parallel genetic origins of pelvic reduction in vertebrates. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 103 (37), 13753-13758 (subscription required).

Lanctot, C., Moreau, A., Chamberland, M., Tremblay, M. L. & Drouin, J. (1999). Hindlimb patterning and mandible development require the Ptx1 gene. Development, 126, 1805-1810 (subscription required).

Funding provided by grant 51006109 from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Precollege Science Education Initiative for Biomedical Research.


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APA format:
Genetic Science Learning Center (2014, June 22) Old Genes, New Tricks. Learn.Genetics. Retrieved July 29, 2016, from http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/variation/newtricks/
MLA format:
Genetic Science Learning Center. "Old Genes, New Tricks." Learn.Genetics 29 July 2016 <http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/variation/newtricks/>
Chicago format:
Genetic Science Learning Center, "Old Genes, New Tricks," Learn.Genetics, 22 June 2014, <http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/variation/newtricks/> (29 July 2016)