Speed-reading is a technique used to read quickly, which involves visual searching for clues to meaning and skipping non-essential words and/ or sentences.
Similarly to humans, biological systems are sometimes under selective pressure to quickly "read" genetic information. Genes that need to be read quickly are usually small, as the smaller the encoding message, the easier it will be to read them quickly. Now, researchers from Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (IGC, Portugal) and Centre for Molecular and Structural Biomedicine (University of Algarve, Portugal) discovered that, besides size, the gene architecture is also important to the optimization of the "reading" process. This study was now published in the open access scientific journal eLife*.
The research team led by Rui Martinho hit upon these findings while studying the earlier stages of the development in the fruit fly (scientific name, Drosophila melanogaster). It was known that the timing and coordination of the cell cycle and gene expression are crucial for normal development. In the earlier stages of development, cells divide very rapidly, but at the same time they need to correctly 'read' their genes in order to produce the required proteins. Genes contain the 'code' to produce proteins, but also contain sequences, called introns, that are not required for this process and therefore need to be removed before protein synthesis.
Rui Martinho says: "Our work shows that biological systems pushed speed-reading to another level: besides deleting non-essential words and sentences to make the text shorter, its entire organization was altered; being mostly without paragraphs. Nature response to speed-reading was simple and effective: short and highly compacted genes without introns."
Leonardo Guilgur, post-doctoral researcher at Rui Martinho's laboratory and first author of this work: add: "Recently it has been shown by another research group that inhibition of the machinery that removes introns has potent activity against most cancer cell lines (which are dividing cells). Therefore increasing our knowledge about the developmental role of intron removal efficiency not only contributes to our understanding of a key biological process, but also offers a new exploratory ground to develop anticancer drug treatments".
Similarly to Drosophila melanogaster, other organisms, such as mosquitoes and zebrafish also have many genes without introns being expressed in the early phases of embryonic development. This indicates that similar constraints to gene architecture are likely common during fast development.