The chance appearance of certain combinations of elements in the genome can lead to the generation of new genes that drive evolutionary innovation.
The formation of new genes from previously non-active parts of the genome was, until recently, considered highly improbable.
This study led by Jorge Ruiz-Orera and Mar Alba from Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute (IMIM-ICREA) in Barcelona, Spain showed that the mutations that occur normally in our genetic material may be sufficient to explain how this happens.
Once expressed, the genes can act as a substrate for the evolution of new molecular functions.
In every genome, there are sets of genes, which are unique to that particular species.
In this study, the scientists first identified thousands of genes that were specific to human or chimpanzee.
Then, they searched the macaque genome and discovered that this species had significantly less element motifs in the corresponding genomic sequences.
These motifs are recognised by proteins that activate gene expression, a necessary step in the formation of a new gene, the study said.
The findings appeared in the journal PLOS Genetics.