Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Sex versus survival: A tradeoff at geographical range limits

16.11.2004


Northern plants must ’use it or lose it,’ says Queen’s study

A new, Queen’s-led study shows that plants growing in harsh northern climates are losing the ability to reproduce sexually, an evolutionary phenomenon similar to the loss of sight in cave-dwelling fish. "Our genetic analysis shows that northern plant populations acquire mutations that disable sex itself, a trait central to the biology of almost all higher organisms," says Queen’s biologist Christopher Eckert, co-author of the study and an expert in reproductive evolution.

These findings are provocative because they point to the possibility of rapid reproductive evolution in other species at the northern fringes of their range, Dr. Eckert explains. "This is significant because almost all of the designated species at risk in Canada consist of populations at their northern range limit." "Rapid reproductive evolution at the range limit will clearly affect decisions about the management of these marginal populations," he continues. "A shift in how plants reproduce will also greatly affect whether or not they will be able to move with changing climates, especially rapid global warming caused by humans."



Focusing on Decodon verticillatus, a dominant shrub in wetlands throughout eastern North America, a series of studies led by Dr. Eckert show that populations switch from being sexual to totally asexual across the northern limit of the species’ geographical range. This switch leads to northern populations becoming "enormous, genetically homogeneous superclones." By comparing reproduction in natural populations versus a benign greenhouse environment, the research team learned that the reproductive switch is due to genetic factors causing sexual sterility.

These sterility mutations can spread in northern populations because the harsher environment makes sex relatively unsuccessful compared to asexual clonal reproduction (where plants make genetically identical offspring by vegetative budding). This is akin to the evolutionary loss of eyes in cave organisms where a lack of light makes visual stimuli useless. Published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society, the paper is co-authored by Queen’s student Kathryn Neville and Queen’s graduate Marcel Dorken (now at Oxford University).

Evidence gathered under the controlled environmental conditions of the Queen’s Phytotron shows that the genes that disable sex in northern populations of Decodon actually improve other aspects of plant function such as survival. Hence, plants growing in cold climates appear to have made an evolutionary "tradeoff" between sexual reproduction and enhanced survival, says Dr. Eckert. The doubled-edged nature of these sterility mutations can cause them to spread quickly in northern populations where sex is not very useful. This shows how complex traits such as sexual reproduction can quickly degenerate and even disappear when they are no longer useful.

Evolutionary biologists have long viewed these so-called vestigial traits – which appear to have degenerated under conditions where they no longer enhance reproductive fitness – as the flip-side of Darwin’s mechanism of evolution by natural selection. "No other theory can explain why organisms have collected these degraded vestigial traits," says Dr. Eckert, noting that in humans an example of a vestigial, or lost trait, is our tailbone. "If our data are borne out by other genetic studies, it means that these complex traits can be eroded very quickly."

Nancy Dorrance | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.queensu.ca

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Protein 'spy' gains new abilities
28.04.2017 | Rice University

nachricht How Plants Form Their Sugar Transport Routes
28.04.2017 | Universität Heidelberg

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Fighting drug resistant tuberculosis – InfectoGnostics meets MYCO-NET² partners in Peru

28.04.2017 | Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

How Plants Form Their Sugar Transport Routes

28.04.2017 | Life Sciences

Protein 'spy' gains new abilities

28.04.2017 | Life Sciences

Researchers unravel the social network of immune cells

28.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>