What’s the Answer? (orthologs for authors)

BioStar is a site for asking, answering and discussing bioinformatics questions and issues. We are members of the community and find it very useful. Often questions and answers arise at BioStar that are germane to our readers (end users of genomics resources). Every Thursday we will be highlighting one of those items or discussions here in this thread. You can ask questions in this thread, or you can always join in at BioStar.

This week’s highlighted question is quite a basic one–but I’m more interested in the reason it was asked. Have a look at the question and the associated story….

Question: Is it possible for orthologous genes to exist in one member of a species but not another?


I am not a scientist and I know nothing about genetics. I am a writer and I am writing a story in which genetics will play a small but very significant part. If anyone could answer a question I have in language that a layman could understand, I would be very grateful.

Is it possible for orthologous genes to exist in one member of a species but not another. So, for example, if humans have certain traits they share with mice that are inherited from a common ancestor, could one human possess some of these traits and another human posses others? Or would those orthologous genes be identical across the species?

Sorry if that is a simplistic question.

And thank you in advance for anyone kind enough to reply.


The reason I think this is interesting is that someone found this very technical forum for a fiction writing exercise. And then got some useful guidance from professionals in the field. I think it’s great to see a person outside the field seeking the correct answers, and I wish there was more of it. The science facts are actually so interesting that I hate to see otherwise decent stories mangled by terrible science. I know sometimes the science is supposed to be incongruent–but that’s not what bugs me. It’s when simple things that could be easily woven in correctly into a story are done poorly. It takes me right out of the writing.

Of course, that’s much worse in actual news reporting in far too many cases. I wish there were more ways to support non-science reporters on issues like that quickly that support their deadline issues. It would be great to get more of that correct in the news. I so appreciate the good science writers* who work really hard to get it right–but they are often already in touch with quality sources and on different time schedules that some poor beat reporter who got dropped some sciencey press release.

*The Yong loop diagrams the tension in this area better than any other explanation I’ve ever seen.