Thursday, February 13, 2014

Forbes picks up Salk study showing that iPS cells can explain nuances of evolution

Reprogrammed iPS type stem cells are lending their power to the study of evolution. They have raised the curtain on why our genes are so much more stable than our closest relatives among primates; why the genetic differences among a single chimp troop can exceed the genetic variability among all living humans.

Maria Machetto, working in Fred Gage’s lab, created iPS cells from adult tissue of humans, chimpanzees and bonobos, which were once called pygmy chimps. Because these stem cells allowed them to compare the genetic function of living cells across the species, they could verify the impact of a type of gene that is responsible for much of the genetic variation seen in evolution. They looked at so-called jumping genes that literally shift around the chromosomes and as a result cause changes in the neighboring genes.

The team found much less jumping gene activity in the human cells than in the cells from either of the apes. The research appeared in Nature last October and I suspect recent publicity about evolution, most notably last week’s creationist debate with Bill Nye “The Science Guy,” led to Forbes revisiting the work.

We included it our weekly news summary of stem cell stories that “Caught our eye” the week the paper came out. It is nice to see some follow-up coverage from mainstream press, particularly when evolution is in the news.

Don Gibbons

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