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    How novel gene functions evolve is a fundamental question in biology. Mucin proteins, a functionally but not evolutionarily defined group of proteins, allow the study of convergent evolution of gene function. By analyzing the genomic variation of mucins across a wide range of mammalian genomes, we propose that exonic repeats and their copy number variation contribute substantially to the de novo evolution of new gene functions. By integrating bioinformatic, phylogenetic, proteomic, and immunohistochemical approaches, we identified 15 undescribed instances of evolutionary convergence, where novel mucins originated by gaining densely O-glycosylated exonic repeat domains. Our results suggest that secreted proteins rich in proline are natural precursors for acquiring mucin function. Our findings have broad implications for understanding the role of exonic repeats in the parallel evolution of new gene functions, especially those involving protein glycosylation.


    Petar Pajic, Shichen Shen, Jun Qu, Alison J May, Sarah Knox, Stefan Ruhl, Omer Gokcumen. A mechanism of gene evolution generating mucin function. Science advances. 2022 Aug 26;8(34):eabm8757

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    PMID: 36026444

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