How non-coding DNA gives rise to new protein-coding genes (de novo genes) is not well understood. Recent work has revealed the origins and functions of a few de novo genes, but common principles governing the evolution or biological roles of these genes are unknown. To better define these principles, we performed a parallel analysis of the evolution and function of six putatively protein-coding de novo genes described in Drosophila melanogaster. Reconstruction of the transcriptional history of de novo genes shows that two de novo genes emerged from novel long non-coding RNAs that arose at least 5 MY prior to evolution of an open reading frame. In contrast, four other de novo genes evolved a translated open reading frame and transcription within the same evolutionary interval suggesting that nascent open reading frames (proto-ORFs), while not required, can contribute to the emergence of a new de novo gene. However, none of the genes arose from proto-ORFs that existed long before expression evolved. Sequence and structural evolution of de novo genes was rapid compared to nearby genes and the structural complexity of de novo genes steadily increases over evolutionary time. Despite the fact that these genes are transcribed at a higher level in males than females, and are most strongly expressed in testes, RNAi experiments show that most of these genes are essential in both sexes during metamorphosis. This lethality suggests that protein coding de novo genes in Drosophila quickly become functionally important. © 2013 Reinhardt et al.
Reinhardt J.A., Wanjiru B.M., Brant A.T., Saelao P., Begun D.J., Jones C.D. (2013) De Novo ORFs in Drosophila Are Important to Organismal Fitness and Evolved Rapidly from Previously Non-coding Sequences. PLoS Genetics 9: -. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1003860