Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Wisconsin scientists find portal to show animals evolve

03.02.2005


Like butterflies, different species of fruit flies decorate their wings with a great diversity of spots and patterns. Digging deep into a single gene that produce pigmentation in the flies, a group led by UW-Madison biologist Sean Carroll has found the molecular switches that control where the pigmentation is deployed. The finding explains how common genes can be controlled to produce the seemingly endless array of patterns, decoration and body architecture found in animals. Photo: courtesy of Nicolas Gompel and Benjamin Prud’homme


Like the gaudy peacock or majestic buck, the bachelor fruit fly is in a race against time to mate and pass along its genes. And just as flashy plumage or imposing antlers work to an animal’s reproductive advantage, so, too, do the colored spots that decorate the wings of a particular male fruit fly.

To the ladies, the spots - waved frenetically by suitors in the fruit fly courtship ritual - connote sex appeal.

To a team of Wisconsin scientists, however, the origin of these decorative spots has proven to be a critical portal to unraveling a long-standing genetic mystery: What is it, exactly, that governs the development and evolution of form? Is it the genes themselves or the devices within DNA that control where genes are used in the making of the animal’s body?



The answer, according to the team from the Howard Hughes Medical Research Institute (HHMI) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and published this week (Feb. 2) in the journal Nature, is that the heavy lifting of evolution is accomplished through changes in the genetic switches that direct how genes work. "This is smoking gun evidence of how animal patterns evolve," says Sean B. Carroll, a UW-Madison professor of genetics and the senior author of the Nature paper.

While discovered in flies, it is almost certain that the same mechanisms are at play in all other animals, including humans, and help determine everything from the snout of an aardvark to the stripes of the zebra.

The discovery is important because it provides critical evidence of how animals evolve new features to improve their chances of reproductive success and survival. It is, says Carroll, convincing proof that evolution occurs as accidental mutations create features - a spot here or a stripe there - that confer advantages in attracting mates, hiding from or confusing predators, or gaining access to food. The mutations are preserved, according to the Nature report, as changes in a few of the millions of nucleotides - the chemical building blocks of DNA.

The fruit fly, says Carroll, proved to be ideal to study the fine print of evolution because one species, Drosophila melanogaster, is among the most-studied animals in biology and is a workhorse of modern genetics. But there are thousands of species of fruit fly, and unlike the very plain melanogaster, the wings of males of many species sport decorations that are as diverse and as beautiful as the wings of butterflies.

The data from the Wisconsin study, Carroll and his colleagues say, confirm the long-held idea that "evolution is a combination of chance and ecological necessity, which selects those things that are going to be kept. It means that (an animal’s features) are just accidents - accidents that are preserved" because they confer some kind of advantage.

While the decorations on a fruit fly’s wing begin as accidents of development, the patterns we see are far from willy-nilly murals of nature. The spots tend to occur along physical landmarks of the wing, at the junctures of veins, which provide contours and boundaries like those of a leaded-glass window. "The patterns on a wing are not just random graffiti. The spots emerge at specific places," Carroll says.

"The structure of the fruit fly wing has been around for a long time, and the (different species) paint by parameters that are already there," says Nicolas Gompel, who, along with Benjamin Prud’homme, is a lead author of the new Nature report. "What we see in many different species is the repeated use of a pattern that is already built into the wing," Gompel says.

The new work by the Wisconsin HHMI team adds to the accumulating understanding of how evolution works at the most fundamental level, says Carroll. "The depth of our understanding of evolution is only growing," he says.

In addition to Carroll, Gompel and Prud’homme, authors of the Nature paper include Patricia J. Wittkopp, now of Cornell University, and Victoria A. Kassner.

Sean B. Carroll | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.wisc.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Bare bones: Making bones transparent
27.04.2017 | California Institute of Technology

nachricht Link Discovered between Immune System, Brain Structure and Memory
26.04.2017 | Universität Basel

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

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

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Bare bones: Making bones transparent

27.04.2017 | Life Sciences

Study offers new theoretical approach to describing non-equilibrium phase transitions

27.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

From volcano's slope, NASA instrument looks sky high and to the future

27.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>