'smORFs': Functional Little Genome Gems Confront Evolution | The Institute for Creation Research

'smORFs': Functional Little Genome Gems Confront Evolution

Until recently, thousands of tiny, potential protein-coding regions in the genome called "small open reading frames" or "smORFs" have been difficult to identify. They are now getting well-deserved attention for the important biochemical functions they play in the cell—like making your heart beat.1

In the present study published in Science, researchers found two smORF-encoded proteins in fruit fly genomes that were 28 to 29 amino acids in length and involved in regulating calcium transport and calcium intake in muscle and heart cells.1 And based on these proteins' 3-D shape and function in flies, the researchers found two counterparts in humans, which they also characterized and found to be involved in calcium uptake and heart muscle function as well.

Based on their 3-D shape, the researchers claimed that the human smORF proteins evolved from fly smORFs over a span of 550 million years, despite the fact that the DNA sequences that encode them showed virtually no similarity. The authors of the report revealed this contradiction burying it in the middle of their report where they said, "We searched for conservation of these smORFs in other species by using Basic Local Alignment Search Tool (BLAST) and only identified them in other Drosophilids [other fruit flies] (page 1118)."1 In other words, the DNA sequences for these smORFs were specific only to fruit flies and showed no evolutionary relationship to humans or any other creature. For all practical purposes, the evolutionary story behind this discovery was marginal all along.

Most of the proteins produced in the human genome are about 500 amino acids long on average. The proteins encoded by smORFs are only about 10 to 30 amino acids long and have been largely found by happenstance while studying gene mutations. Noted Harvard University physiologist, Alan Saghatelian (not an author on the current study) said, "These things have fallen through the cracks of traditional gene-finding algorithms, and most of the ones we know about have been serendipitously discovered."2

Interestingly, the smORF-related genes that contain segments that encode these small proteins—called long non-coding RNAs or lncRNAs—are often quite long (much like protein-coding genes), are complexly regulated, and highly multifunctional.1 These lncRNA genes occupy the regions of the genome once thought to be nothing but junk DNA. However, lncRNAs have been found to be highly cell and tissue specific in their function and also encode other important regulatory molecules like micro RNAs. Some lncRNAs also combine with various proteins to make different types of important cell machinery and are key players in epigenetic modifications (chemical tagging) in controlling the genome's function.3 Amazingly, lncRNAs are also proving to be key players in DNA repair, 3-D chromosomal positioning in the nucleus, and overall genome stability and function.4

Since no real DNA sequence-based evolutionary relationships exist for these human and fruit fly smORFs encoded within lncRNA genes, the most important news about this discovery is the continuing revelation of pervasive design and function in the genome—further negating the weak evolutionary paradigm of junk DNA.

References

  1. Magny, E. et al. 2013. Conserved Regulation of Cardiac Calcium Uptake by Peptides Encoded in Small Open Reading Frames. Science. 341 (6150): 1116-1120.
  2. Yong, E. Hidden Treasures. The Scientist. Posted on the-scientist.com August 22, 2013, accessed September 20, 2013.
  3. Rinn, J. L. and H. Y. Chang. 2012. Genome Regulation by Long Noncoding RNAs. Annual Review Biochemistry. 81:145–166.
  4. Ohsawa, R. J. H. Seol, and J. K. Tyler. 2013. At the intersection of non-coding transcription, DNA repair, chromatin structure, and cellular senescence. Frontiers in Genetics. 4 (36). doi:10.3389/fgene.2013.00136.

*Dr. Tomkins is Research Associate at the Institute for Creation Research and received his Ph.D. in genetics from Clemson University.

Article posted on October 14, 2013.

The Latest
COVID-19
What New York Times Columnist Katherine Stewart Needs to Know
An Opinion piece for The New York Times by Katherine Stewart1 makes the assertions that President Trump has responded poorly to the coronavirus...

COVID-19
RNA Virus Origins Fit Genesis Creation
RNA viruses all use organized sequences of RNA chemical ‘letters’ to encode their plans for construction and operation. Infamous RNA viruses...

COVID-19
Psalm 8 and COVID-19
Here in Dallas County, we are under shelter-in-place orders as part of the plan to slow the progress of the global coronavirus pandemic.1 Many...

COVID-19
Spacecraft Model Construction for Isolated Families
The European Space Agency has posted a number of do-it-yourself science activities for families homebound during the coronavirus pandemic.1...

NEWS
Woodcocks: Fit for Different Situations
In today’s change-filled world, God is ubiquitously displaying His creativity to provide for our most important needs. God’s creative providence...

NEWS
Unfounded Fears Arise from Deep Canyon
New concerns have surfaced this week about melting ice from within the deepest point on the continents.1 Worry over the rapid melting of the...

COVID-19
An Ocean of Viruses
A virus is a very tiny structure. In its simplest definition, a virus is some nucleic acid (either DNA or RNA) packed inside a protein coat. It is designed...

NEWS
Inside April 2020 Acts & Facts
How is ICR preparing for our next season of ministry? How does science confirm that turtles have always been turtles? Were dragons really dinosaurs?...

APOLOGETICS
Signs of the Times: Glacier Meltdown
What if meteorologists only got paid if their weather predictions proved to be correct? If so, predicting the weather would be a risky business, like...

ACTS & FACTS
Why Don't They Believe in Creation?
After an ICR scientist presents convincing evidence for biblical creation, listeners often ask, “If all you just said is true, then why don’t...