A multi-institutional study offers additional insight into the evolutionary process by examining how albinism evolves in cavefish. Researchers, including New York University Biology Professor Richard Borowsky, examined two populations of Mexican cavefish and found that albinism in both populations was linked to Oca2--a pigmentation gene also responsible for the most common form of albinism in humans. They observed different deletions in the gene in each population and found that both deletions cause a loss of Oca2s functionality, demonstrating that the albinism in the two groups evolved independently. The findings are reported in the latest issue of the journal Nature Genetics.
The study also included researchers from the Harvard Medical School, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the Childrens Hospital of Boston, the University of Hamburg, and the University of Marylands Department of Biology. The research was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.
The replicated experiment is a powerful tool for experimental science, but typically unavailable in the study of evolution. Cave adaptations have evolved in many species independently, however, and each cave species can be considered a replicate of the same evolutionary experiment that asks how species change in perpetual darkness. A frequent outcome is that the species lose pigmentation or become albino. Cavefish, therefore, are a rich source for the examination of the evolutionary process.
James Devitt | EurekAlert!
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