100-million-year-old gene mutation provides snapshot of evolution

October 19th, 2010 - 5:50 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Oct 19 (ANI): Researchers have uncovered a snapshot of evolution in progress, by tracing how a gene mutation over 100 million years ago led flowers to make male and female parts in different ways.

The findings have provided a perfect example of how diversity stems from such genetic ‘mistakes’.

The research has also opened the door to further investigation into how plants make flowers - the origins of the seeds and fruits that we eat.

By tracing back through the evolutionary ‘tree’ for flowering plants, researchers at the University of Leeds calculated that the gene duplication took place around 120 million years ago.

But the mutation, which separates how snapdragons and rock cress use this extra gene, happened around 20 million years later.

The researchers have discovered that the different behaviour of the gene in each plant is linked to one amino acid.

Although the genes look very similar, the proteins they encode don’t always have this amino acid.

When it is present, the activity of the protein is limited to making only male parts. When the amino acid isn’t there, the protein is able to interact with a range of other proteins involved in flower production, enabling it to make both male and female parts.

“A small mutation in the gene fools the plant’s machinery to insert an extra amino acid and this tiny change has created a dramatic difference in how these plants control making their reproductive organs,” said Davies.

The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). (ANI)

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