Midsummer Nights' Science: Finding your inner yeast: How do new traits evolve?

To understand human biology we must tackle an important question: how do we look at an organism’s DNA sequence – its genotype – and understand how it produces the organism’s traits and behaviors, or phenotype?

Humans share a lot of genes with other organisms like dogs, apes, and even yeast. We have the same genetic toolbox, yet remain very different. These differences can be attributed to gene expression – when genes get turned on or off – that gets rewired over the course of evolution to produce new phenotypes.

In this final Midsummers' Night Science Lecture of 2014, Dawn Thompson, assistant director of the Broad's Cell Circuits Program, discusses recent work that investigates how changes in gene expression have given rise to interesting phenotypes such as altered metabolism in cancer cells, and the production of ethanol by yeast (a development which has been fortuitous for baking!). These same principles can be applied to help unlock the secrets of our own evolution.