Researchers at the University of Toronto have sequenced and compared of hundreds of thousands of genetic "messages" in equivalent organs such as brains, hearts and livers from 10 different vertebrate species, ranging from human to frog.
The study has revealed alternative splicing -- a process by which a single gene can give rise to multiple proteins -- has dramatically changed the structure and complexity of those messages during vertebrate evolution, they said.
Differences in the ways genetic messages are spliced have played a major role in the evolution of fundamental characteristics of species -- making them look different from one another -- but could also account for differences in disease susceptibility, they said.
"The same genetic mechanisms responsible for a species' identity could help scientists understand why humans are prone to certain diseases such as Alzheimer's and particular types of cancer that are not found in other species," computational biologists Nuno Barbosa-Morais said in a university release Thursday.
The alternative splicing process is more complex in humans and other primates compared to species such as mouse, chicken and frog, researchers said.
"Our observations provide new insight into the genetic basis of complexity of organs such as the human brain," Toronto researcher Benjamin Blencowe said.
"The fact that alternative splicing is very different even between closely related vertebrate species could ultimately help explain how we are unique."