Eukaryotic gene introns, i.e., stretches of DNA that are transcribed into RNA but then removed before the RNA transcript is read to make a protein, are still an evolutionary mystery. To understand how introns are maintained, it is possible to compare their distribution and characteristics in different organisms.
By using Cryptococcus neoformans as a model, Stephanie and her Broad colleagues are studying the mutational changes in introns to determine if natural selection maintains long introns. They are doing this by examining the patterns of insertion and deletion mutations in short introns vs. long introns, and by developing a Perl computer program to analyze the mutations. The prediction is that there are more deletions than insertions in the long introns if natural selection is not maintaining longer introns. In addition, they are looking for any correlation between intron size and chromosomal location.
"While working at the Broad Institute, I have been exposed to many new evolving fields of science. It is unbelievable to see how far research has come in such little time. My outlook on scientific research will never be the same."
Stephanie Hughes,a Jackson State University senior, explored how evolution might shape introns — short pieces of DNA that are removed from genes before they are read into proteins.