You are here

Molecular Biology

12 November, 2015 - 09:22

Like anatomical structures, the structures of the molecules of life reflect descent with modification. Evidence of a common ancestor for all of life is reflected in the universality of DNA as the genetic material and of the near universality of the genetic code and the machinery of DNA replication and expression. Fundamental divisions in life between the three domains are reflected in major structural differences in otherwise conservative structures such as the components of ribosomes and the structures of membranes. In general, the relatedness of groups of organisms is reflected in the similarity of their DNA sequences—exactly the pattern that would be expected from descent and diversification from a common ancestor.

DNA sequences have also shed light on some of the mechanisms of evolution. For example, it is clear that the evolution of new functions for proteins commonly occurs after gene duplication events. These duplications are a kind of mutation in which an entire gene is added as an extra copy (or many copies) in the genome. These duplications allow the free modification of one copy by mutation, selection, and drift, while the second copy continues to produce a functional protein. This allows the original function for the protein to be kept, while evolutionary forces tweak the copy until it functions in a new way.