Genes originate at different evolutionary time scales and possess different ages, accordingly presenting diverse functional characteristics and reflecting distinct adaptive evolutionary innovations. In the past decades, progresses have been made in gene age identification by a variety of methods that are principally based on comparative genomics. Here we summarize methods for computational determination of gene age and evaluate the effectiveness of different computational methods for age identification. Our results show that improved age determination can be achieved by combining homolog clustering with phylogeny inference, which enables more accurate age identification in human genes. Accordingly, we characterize evolutionary dynamics of human genes based on an extremely long evolutionary time scale spanning ~4,000 million years from archaea/bacteria to human, revealing that young genes are clustered on certain chromosomes and that Mendelian disease genes (including monogenic disease and polygenic disease genes) and cancer genes exhibit divergent evolutionary origins. Taken together, deciphering genes' ages as well as their evolutionary dynamics is of fundamental significance in unveiling the underlying mechanisms during evolution and better understanding how young or new genes become indispensable integrants coupled with novel phenotypes and biological diversity.
Keywords: Mendelian disease genes; cancer genes; evolutionary dynamics; gene age.
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