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"Gene-Age-Ology" -- The Discovery Files

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Researchers at the University of Chicago have discovered that "new" genes which have evolved in species as little as one million years ago can be just as essential for life as ancient genes.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Those Are Some Fly Genes.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: fruit fly buzzing) No, really the genes of a fruit fly. In a new study out of the University of Chicago that reveals that, when it comes to genes, age doesn't matter.

Their experiments involved shutting down or silencing individual genes in these flies through a process called RNA interference. (Sound effect: switch turning off) The genes were tested in two groups: ancient ones that have been passed on for a long time through natural selection and relatively newer genes that appeared sometime in the last 35 million years. The old school genes were traditionally believed to be the most important for overall survival, while the newbies were believed to be nice, but not totally essential. This new study says 'not so'! The scientists discovered that roughly the same percentage of genes in each group were needed to keep the fly alive -- giving almost equal significance to new and old genes.

(Sound effect: party crowd applauding, welcoming) If a new gene comes along and has traits that help reproduction or survival, it's favored by natural selection and stays in the genome. After a while, it becomes an essential part of a species' biology.

That may have big implications for human health. The researchers say that though animals have been useful for learning about human disease, important health information may well reside in genes unique to us.

The study said nothing about stone-washed "jeans."

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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