Remnants of extinct monkeys are hiding inside you, along with those of lizards, jellyfish and other animals. Your DNA is built upon gene fragments from primal ancestors.
Now researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have made it more likely that ancestral genes, along with ancestral proteins, can be confidently identified and reconstructed. They have benchmarked a vital tool that would seem nearly impossible to benchmark. The newly won confidence in the tool could also help scientists use ancient gene sequences to synthesize better proteins to battle diseases.
For some 20 years, scientists have used algorithms to compute their way hundreds of millions of years back into the evolutionary past. Starting with present-day gene sequences, they perform what’s called ancestral sequence reconstruction (ASR) to determine past mutations and figure out the genes’ primal forerunners. “With the help of ASR, we can now actually build those ancient genes in the laboratory and express their encoded ancient proteins,” said Eric Gaucher, an associate professor at Georgia Tech’s School of Biological Sciences.