Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Research sheds new light on process of evolution


For more than a century, scientists have concluded that a species evolves or adapts by going through an infinite number of small genetic changes over a long period of time.

However, a team of researchers, including a Michigan State University plant biologist, has provided new evidence that an alternate theory is actually at work, one in which the process begins with several large mutations before settling down into a series of smaller ones.

The research is published in the Nov. 12 issue of the journal Nature.

“The question is asked, ‘If a population finds itself in some maladaptive state, due perhaps to a change in climate, how will it adapt?’” said Douglas Schemske, MSU Hannah Professor of Plant Biology and a member of the research team. “The evidence that has come to light recently – both in plants and other organisms – is that the initial changes are bigger than we might have expected.”

To study the question, Schemske and his colleagues used a common plant called the monkeyflower, changing its genetic make up in a rather dramatic way to see if it would attract new pollinators – hummingbirds instead of bees or vice versa.

By moving a small piece of the genome between two different species of the plants – the pink-flowered M. lewisii and the red-flowered M. cardinalis – the researchers created different colored flowers that attracted new pollinators.

“We discovered that moving this single genetic region caused a dramatic increase in visitation by a ‘new’ pollinator,” Schemske said. “Specifically, the orange flowers produced on the previously pink flowered and bee-pollinated M. lewisii were regularly visited by hummingbirds but shunned by bees.

“Also, the pink flowers of the previously hummingbird-pollinated M. cardinalis were attractive to both bees and hummingbirds,” he said.

Schemske and H.D. “Toby” Bradshaw, a professor of biology at the University of Washington and the lead author of the paper that appeared in Nature, said altering the genetic region responsible for the flowers’ color is much like what could happen during a naturally occurring mutation.

“Perhaps a single mutation having to do with color changed the pollinator milieu back when there was only a single species,” Bradshaw said. “That one big evolutionary step may then have been followed by many smaller steps triggered by pollinator preferences that led ultimately to different species.”

Schemske compared the process to the repairing of a finely tuned watch.

“In our model, the first adaptive adjustments might require big changes, similar to banging the broken watch a few times before making the final small tweaks to restore its optimal performance,” he said.

The plants used in the work were produced in a campus greenhouse and then transported to an area near the Yosemite National Park where natural populations of both species occur.

“This was a rather unique aspect of the work,” Schemske said, “in that it combined molecular genetic techniques and ecological observations to elucidate the process of adaptation in natural populations.”

The work was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Tom Oswald | MSU
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht First time-lapse footage of cell activity during limb regeneration
25.10.2016 | eLife

nachricht Phenotype at the push of a button
25.10.2016 | Institut für Pflanzenbiochemie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

Fluorescent holography: Upending the world of biological imaging

25.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Etching Microstructures with Lasers

25.10.2016 | Process Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>