Genes encoding essential components of core cellular processes are typically highly conserved across eukaryotes. However, a small proportion of essential genes are highly taxonomically restricted; there appear to be no similar genes outside the genomes of highly related species. What are the functions of these poorly characterized taxonomically restricted genes (TRGs)? Systematic screens in Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Caenorhabditis elegans previously identified yeast or nematode TRGs that are essential for viability and we find that these genes share many molecular features, despite having no significant sequence similarity. Specifically, we find that those TRGs with essential phenotypes have an expression profile more similar to highly conserved genes, they have more protein-protein interactions and more protein disorder. Surprisingly, many TRGs play central roles in chromosome segregation; a core eukaryotic process. We thus find that genes that appear to be highly evolutionarily restricted do not necessarily play roles in species-specific biological functions but frequently play essential roles in core eukaryotic processes.
Versterc, A. J., Styles, E. B., Mateo, A., Derry, W. B., Andrews, B. J., & Fraser, A. G. (2017). Taxonomically restricted genes with essential functions frequently play roles in chromosome segregation in Caenorhabditis elegans and Saccharomyces cerevisiae. G3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics, 7(10), 3337–3347. https://doi.org/10.1534/g3.117.300193