In the wild, only the plants with the most attractive flower colours are able to reproduce and thrive because the insects that pollinate them prefer certain colours. The bees that pollinate snapdragon find magenta and yellow flowers the most attractive; they do not find colours such as orange attractive and so flowers of this colour would not flourish in the wild due to lack of pollination. Scientists already know that natural colour variation is controlled by three genes: ROSEA and ELUTA affect the intensity and pattern of the magenta pigment anthocyanin and thirdly SULFUREA affects the distribution of the yellow aurone pigment. The researchers in this study wanted to understand how plants producing magenta or yellow flowers could evolve from a common ancestor without producing in-between non-attractive flower colours such as orange.
"This is a totally different way of looking at evolution and could lead to a better understanding of the rules that govern biodiversity" explains Coen, "If we can comprehend how Antirrhinum genes interact in their natural habitat, it may help us in the future to better preserve genetic diversity".
The team led by Enrico Coen (JIC) and Andrew Bangham (UEA) combined molecular, genetic and computational approaches to analyse flower colour variation in natural populations of snapdragon. Using a traditional model, a plot of evolutionary fitness for this study appears to have two peaks: one at the magenta end of the colour spectrum and a second peak at the yellow end, with a trough in the middle representing non-attractive intermediate colours such as orange. As a result, for a plant to evolve from producing magenta flowers to yellow ones it would first have to pass through the trough and produce non-attractive orange flowers before developing yellow ones. However, as Bangham points out, “There are computational methods for understanding and visualising high-dimensional problems that provide new insights”. With these, a more realistic model was created and the researchers discovered that different attributes (phenotypes) that previously appeared as separate peaks in the adaptive landscape, were in fact connected by paths in higher dimensions, forming a U-shaped cloud, with one arm representing magenta connected to the second arm representing yellow. Using this new model, the scientists could trace the evolutionary path that linked these two apparently distinct colour attributes.
"We now understand how these plants can evolve to produce different colours whilst staying attractive to pollinating insects – we've found that colour is variable but constrained to a defined path" states Enrico Coen. But if pollinators prefer certain coloured flowers, why aren't all flowers the same colour? "We still do not know precisely why flower colours should vary in the first place," says Coen, "it could be due to drifting of colours from one to another by accumulation of genetic errors, or alternatively there could be a selective advantage for certain colours in different environments".
The researchers are now applying this new way of modelling evolution to other phenotypes, allowing them to identify how apparently distinct attributes are linked through evolution.
Vicky Just | alfa
'Lipid asymmetry' plays key role in activating immune cells
20.02.2018 | Biophysical Society
New printing technique uses cells and molecules to recreate biological structures
20.02.2018 | Queen Mary University of London
For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.
In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...
Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale
Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...
For photographers and scientists, lenses are lifesavers. They reflect and refract light, making possible the imaging systems that drive discovery through the microscope and preserve history through cameras.
But today's glass-based lenses are bulky and resist miniaturization. Next-generation technologies, such as ultrathin cameras or tiny microscopes, require...
Scientists from the University of Zurich have succeeded for the first time in tracking individual stem cells and their neuronal progeny over months within the intact adult brain. This study sheds light on how new neurons are produced throughout life.
The generation of new nerve cells was once thought to taper off at the end of embryonic development. However, recent research has shown that the adult brain...
Theoretical physicists propose to use negative interference to control heat flow in quantum devices. Study published in Physical Review Letters
Quantum computer parts are sensitive and need to be cooled to very low temperatures. Their tiny size makes them particularly susceptible to a temperature...
15.02.2018 | Event News
13.02.2018 | Event News
12.02.2018 | Event News
20.02.2018 | Life Sciences
20.02.2018 | Medical Engineering
20.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy