Gene conversion (a process that can occur during genetic recombination and result in altered DNA sequence information) is an important mechanism contributing to both the maintenance of genetic information and the creation of genetic diversity. It is also a mechanism known to be essential for the evolution of certain biomaterials (e.g., silk). However, gene conversion can also cause the accumulation of genetic repeats, which result in common debilitating diseases (e.g., Myotonic Dystrophy and Parkinson's Disease). This project will explore novel methods, including an experimental mathematical modeling approach, for addressing the effects of gene transfer on ancestral DNA sequence reconstruction.
The mathematical reconstruction of ancestral sequences will allow researchers to recreate intermediate representations of a particular protein through time. This, in turn, will enable researchers to physically reproduce certain extinct protein phenotypes, and experimentally test their behavior. This will be useful for both basic and applied research and will catalyze the understanding of structural and functional protein evolution, and the discovery of new biomaterials. Additionally, results may help elucidate the evolution of devastating mental diseases.