Rolling the Dice Twice: Evolving Reconstructed Ancient Proteins in Extant Organisms
Scientists have access to artifacts of evolutionary history (namely, the fossil record and genomic sequences of living organisms) but they have limited means with which to infer the exact evolutionary events that occurred to produce today s living world. An intriguing question to arise from this historical limitation is whether the evolutionary paths of organisms are dominated by internal or external controlled processes (i.e., Life as a factory) or whether they are inherently random and subject to completely different outcomes if repeated under identical conditions (i.e., Life as a casino parlor). Two experimental approaches, ancestral sequence reconstruction and experimental evolution with microorganisms, can be used to recapitulate ancient adaptive pathways and provide valuable insights into the mutational steps that constitute an organism s genetic heritage. Ancestral sequence reconstruction follows a backwards-from-present-day strategy in which various ancestral forms of a modern gene or protein are reconstructed and then studied mechanistically. Experimental evolution, by contrast, follows a forward-from-present day strategy in which microbial populations are evolved in the laboratory under defined conditions in which their evolutionary paths may be closely monitored. Here I describe a novel hybrid of these two methods, in which synthetic components constructed from inferred ancestral gene or protein sequences are placed into the genomes of modern organisms that are then experimentally evolved. Through this system, we aim to establish the comparative study of ancient phenotypes as a novel, statistically rigorous methodology with which to explore the respective impacts of biophysics and chance in evolution within the scope of the Extended Synthesis.
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