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Professor Laurence Hurst
Professor Laurence Hurst

Internal News - 09 October 2006

Research paper plays key role in emerging area of science

A research paper by a scientist in the Department of Biology & Biochemistry has been highlighted as a key paper in an emerging field of molecular biology and genetics.

Thomson ISI track citations in newly-published research papers in order to identify important areas of research.

They have highlighted a paper by Professor Laurence Hurst, and colleagues from the University of Lausanne, published in the journal Nature Reviews Genetics earlier this year.

The paper showed that the assumption that synonymous mutations (those that change DNA of a gene but not the resulting protein) occurring in the genomes of mammals were neutrally evolving – i.e. that chance alone determined their fate – was no longer valid.

This rolls back the front line of the debate concerning the role of selection and chance in molecular evolution, and is important because the assumption of neutrality of synonymous mutations has been a keystone of estimates for how often mutation occurs.

“Importantly it also showed how the selection acts and how this has implications for understanding human disease,” said Professor Hurst.

“It was often assumed that synonymous mutations could not be candidates for human disease.

“The paper shows that this isn’t true, and that many diseases are in fact owing to such changes.”

The paper, ‘Hearing silence: non-neutral evolution at synonymous sites in mammals’, was published by Nature Reviews Genetics in February 2006.

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