Thursday, April 24, 2008

The genetics of adaptation in Arabidopsis   posted by p-ter @ 4/24/2008 09:34:00 PM

One of the "debates" currently occupying evolutionary biology is whether evolution occurs primarily via changes in protein-coding sequence or via changes in gene regulation (apparently it's become so heated that battles between the two camps are now fought through t-shirts).

As understanding of the genetics of adaptation advances, this debate will likely fade away--a priori, it's easy to make the case for either, and well-studied individual examples are showing that, as one might expect, evolution isn't particularly dogmatic about the sources of variation it works with.

It's these case studies that are most interesting--take, for example, a recent study on the adaptation of Arabidopsis halleri to the heavy-metal-polluted soils it now occupies. This is quite a nice example of evolution via gene regulation--the authors map the ability to tolerate heavy metals to a particular candidate gene, then identify both a change in copy number as well as changes in the promoter region of the gene that lead to high levels of expression. To complete the story, they then pop this highly expressing version of the gene back into A. thaliana (the model organism) and show they're able to recreate the crucial aspects of the adaptation in that species.

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