Nature Reviews Genetics 12, 692-702 (October 2011) | doi:10.1038/nrg3053

The evolutionary origin of orphan genes

Diethard Tautz1 & Tomislav Domazet-Lošo2,3  About the authors


Gene evolution has long been thought to be primarily driven by duplication and rearrangement mechanisms. However, every evolutionary lineage harbours orphan genes that lack homologues in other lineages and whose evolutionary origin is only poorly understood. Orphan genes might arise from duplication and rearrangement processes followed by fast divergence; however, de novo evolution out of non-coding genomic regions is emerging as an important additional mechanism. This process appears to provide raw material continuously for the evolution of new gene functions, which can become relevant for lineage-specific adaptations.

Author affiliations

  1. Max-Planck Institut für Evolutionsbiologie, August-Thienemannstrasse 2, 24306 Plön, Germany.
  2. Zoological Institute, Christian Albrechts University Kiel, 24105 Kiel, Germany.
  3. Laboratory of Evolutionary Genetics, Division of Molecular Biology, Ruđer Bošković Institute, Bijenička cesta 54, P.P. 180, 10002 Zagreb, Croatia.

Correspondence to: Diethard Tautz1 Email:

Published online 31 August 2011