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progenitor gene

higginss at VAX.CS.HSCSYR.EDU higginss at VAX.CS.HSCSYR.EDU
Fri Jun 27 14:52:08 EST 1997

Over the past two weeks I have been roundly rebuffed by members of this 
newsgroup for the use of the phrase 'ancient gene(s)'.  This treatment 
went so far as belittling when a well known individual stated:

14 June, 1997 (private response)
"...Your question implies that you view evolution as a ladder...   ...I 
didn't respond publicly because there seems to be no point in 
embarrassing you.  Unfortunately, some others may not be so considerate 
and you can expect some flames.  If you're lucky the regulars will simply 
ignore you."

15 June, 1997 (private response to my response)
"...[These] newsgroups are intended for professionals...to discuss the 
hard-core science...  ...There are other newsgroups for novices...you 
should keep out if you are not in the field..."

My feeling is that this individual, along with others, was well 
intentioned; however, I believe that my post has exposed a gap between 
current thinking and dogma.

After reviewing the literature that I was directed to by the *only* 
positive response I received to my original post (Bernot, 11 June, 1997, 
this newsgroup), I hold the opinion that the responses I received stating 
that 'there are no ancient genes' are dogmatic and reactionary.  The 
problem, as I see it, stems from a lack of distinction between the use of 
'gene' verses 'gene sequence'.

My position is born out by the simple fact that a set of orthologous and 
nonorthologous-displaced genes minimally required for cellular life can 
be identified between species and taxa (Mushegian and Koonin, 1996, PNAS 
93:10268; Clayton et al., 1997, Nature 387:459); moreover, in a news 
article, the term 'modern gene' is used, directly implying 'ancient 
genes' (Pennisi, 1996, Science 272:1098).  However, this does not imply 
that the gene sequences are ancient because a myriad of mechanisms could 
be used to explain convergent sequence evolution between species over the 
past 3+ billion years.

So, in the light of the literature, I have redirected my query:
Of the proposed gene set minimally required for cellular life 
(http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov  goto NCBI Research/research projects  goto 
Genome Analysis/comprehensive analysis of complete genomes), what 
evidence or *opinion* exists concerning which gene(s) can be considered 
to be the most ancient (ie. can the minimal gene set required for 
cellular life be pared down to a likely pre-cellular set)?

On the other hand, in my original post I asked for the most ancient 
extant organism, I'll accept the criticism that this phrasing is a bit 

What I'm after is an extant bacterial species or group that demonstrates 
phenotypic/behavioral characteristics similar to those that can be 
identified in the fossil record as the most ancient cellular life forms 
(eg. Cyanobacteria and stromatolites).

SUNY Health Science Center

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