SUMMARY: The FOXE1 gene codes for a transcription factor (a protein that controls transcription, and thus protein production, in a cell). This transcription factor has been found in a lot of different types of animals and is responsible for a plethora of physical characteristics (hair and skin growth) and organ development (thyroid, cleft palate). Up until now, no one was quite sure what the function of FOXE1 in birds was. This study looked at the differences in the amino acid sequences of FOXE1 in birds compared to mammals, amphibians, and fish. Why? Knowing the differences can give scientists clues into how vertebrates evolved and where the different lineages split up.
LESSON COMMENTS: For middle school kids, you can use this article to talk about how proteins are made and how a small change in their structure can have very dire consequences.
For a high school biology class, this is a good article to read over a period of time when you’re teaching about transcription factors, protein synthesis, and genetics. It may also be a way to start a conversation on how understanding transcription factors or enzyme structure can be applied to existing diseases/conditions.
Yaklichkin, S. Y., Darnell, D. K., Pier, M. V., Antin, P. B., & Hannenhalli, S. (2011). Accelerated evolution of 3’avian FOXE1 genes, and thyroid and feather specific expression of chicken FoxE1. BMC evolutionary biology, 11, 302.