Sequential Loss of Two Neighboring Exons of the Tropoelastin Gene During Primate Evolution
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Previous evidence has demonstrated the absence of exons 34 and 35 within the 3′ end of the human tropoelastin (ELN) gene. These exons encode conserved polypeptide domains within tropoelastin and are found in the ELN gene in vertebrate species ranging from chickens to rats to cows. We have analyzed the ELN gene in a variety of primate species to determine whether the absence of exons 34 and 35 in humans either is due to allelic variation within the human population or is a general characteristic of the Primates order. An analysis of the 3′ end of the ELN gene in several nonhuman primates and in 546 chromosomes from humans of varying ethnic background demonstrated a sequential loss of exons 34 and 35 during primate evolution. The loss of exon 35 occurred at least 35–45 million years ago, when Catarrhines diverged from Platyrrhines (New World monkeys). Exon 34 loss, in contrast, occurred only about 6–8 million years ago, when Homo separated from the common ancestor shared with chimpanzees and gorillas. Loss of both exons was probably facilitated by Alu-mediated recombination events and possibly conferred a functional evolutionary advantage in elastic tissue.
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