Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Natural selection in a nutshell

13.11.2003


Super squirrel moms provide silver spoon beginnings



If they could, many women would likely take a page out of the red squirrel’s book. The northern animal can not only decide when its babies are born in the season but how many brothers and sisters will be in a litter, according to new research by University of Alberta scientists.

But not all female squirrels have these "super mom" capabilities whose genes are wired with these traits--there are "dud moms" in the population as well, report Dr. Stan Boutin and Dr. Andrew McAdam in the current edition of the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B. The research team addressed how much influence a mother has on her babies’ well-being verus the role the environment plays.


"Everybody knew that the care a mother provides was important," said McAdam, who conducted the work in Boutin’s lab at the U of A before moving to the University of California. "But no one has been able to actually show proof of this in the wild before this. We now know which specific traits are contributing to evolution."

The understanding of how characteristics evolve or change is often limited because measuring inheritance in the wild is difficult. Boutin was able to address this issue because he has been monitoring a large squirrel population--approximately 400 adults--since 1989 and because he was able to take some squirrels away from one mother and give them to another (cross-foster).

"We found that the growth rates in young squirrels are determined partly by genes in the offspring--nature--but mostly by the quality of care provided by their mother--nurture," said Boutin, from the Faculty of Science. "We also found that the ability of mothers to care for their offspring is also determined partly by genes. As such, we have quantified the nature of nurture."

Boutin likens what is happening with the red squirrel to the familiar saying that a child is born with a silver spoon in her mouth, suggesting the child is blessed with special conditions that allow her to do well for the rest of her life. The silver spoon refers to the environment during early childhood, he said.

"We questioned how much of this environment is due to luck of the draw--the young happen to be born when times are good--and how much is controlled by the mother."

Two environmental conditions important to offspring growth were the litter size and the time of the birth (late winter or early spring). These conditions are determined by the mother and her "decisions" are affected by the food supply and the genes she carries for litter size and birth date. "In other words, there appear to be "super moms" that are capable of creating a favourable environment…they are, in effect, putting a silver spoon in their children’s mouths.

There is a catch--the super moms and their offspring are only successful when the food supply is good. When times are tough, dud moms actually have youngsters that are more successful. "In other words, the big house, big car, fast life-style works well when the economy is humming along but this may not be the best strategy when the economy slumps and conservatism is a better strategy.

"Our work suggest that there are genes that code for the fast vs slow lifestyle so decisions about how we live are affected by both the environment and our genetic make-up."

Phoebe Dey | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.ualberta.ca/

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Biofuel produced by microalgae
28.02.2017 | Tokyo Institute of Technology

nachricht Decoding the genome's cryptic language
27.02.2017 | University of California - San Diego

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Safe glide at total engine failure with ELA-inside

On January 15, 2009, Chesley B. Sullenberger was celebrated world-wide: after the two engines had failed due to bird strike, he and his flight crew succeeded after a glide flight with an Airbus A320 in ditching on the Hudson River. All 155 people on board were saved.

On January 15, 2009, Chesley B. Sullenberger was celebrated world-wide: after the two engines had failed due to bird strike, he and his flight crew succeeded...

Im Focus: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

Im Focus: Mimicking nature's cellular architectures via 3-D printing

Research offers new level of control over the structure of 3-D printed materials

Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Existence of a new quasiparticle demonstrated

28.02.2017 | Materials Sciences

Sustainable ceramics without a kiln

28.02.2017 | Materials Sciences

Biofuel produced by microalgae

28.02.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>