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July 28,
2003

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Currents--University of Rochester newspaper

Research unlocks new evolutionary clues

Presgraves
Presgraves

University researchers have presented compelling new evidence to suggest that natural selection may have caused one species of fruit fly to split into two more than 2 million years ago. The study, appearing in the June 12 issue of Nature, answers one of evolutionary biologists' most basic questions--how do species divide?--by looking at the very DNA responsible for the division.

Presgraves and his team are the first scientists to fully reveal the DNA of a gene known to be involved in speciation.

"The study of speciation has a reputation for wild speculation because every time we find a curious genetic element, we suspect it of causing speciation," says Daven Presgraves, lead author on the study and postdoctoral fellow at the University. "We know embarrassingly little about a core process in evolutionary biology, but now we've nailed down the exact sequence of a gene that we know was involved in keeping two species separated. We can see that it was natural selection that made the gene the way it is."

In the groundbreaking study, Presgraves and colleagues identified a gene, called Nup 96, that always prevented a hybrid of the two fruit fly species from living to reproduce and sequenced its DNA.

Presgraves then looked at the DNA of Nup 96 and worked to determine whether the two fruit fly species simply drifted apart or whether evolution forcefully took them down their separate paths. What he discovered is that natural selection, Charles Darwin's hypothesized tool to explain the development of complexity in species, appeared to have been responsible for moving the species further apart.

Next, Presgraves plans to investigate other genes that keep the two species separate in order to have a full genetic picture of the species' divergence.

Additional authors of the study are Lakshmi Balagopalan and Susan Abmayr of Pennsylvania State University and H. Allen Orr, professor of biology at the University. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.



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