A difference in the function of a single gene can actually matter

January 9th, 2010 - 6:34 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, January 9 (ANI): In a new research, scientists at the University of Idaho, US, have discovered not only that different species sometimes use the same gene to produce the same adaptation, but also that how they use it can lead to different outcomes.

For the research, Erica Bree Rosenblum, assistant professor of biology, University of Idaho, studied three species of lizards living in the White Sands region of New Mexico.

Though the species are quite different from each other, they are similar in that they each evolved bleached backs in response to living in a white environment.

She discovered that two of the three species used the same gene to change colors but through different mutations, and that the difference had important consequences for the lizards.

“It’s cool that really different species solve the same problem in a similar way,” said Rosenblum.

“But what’s even cooler is that a very slight difference actually has a big effect on the lizards,” she added.

The White Sands region consists of gypsum sand dunes covering a range of 275 square miles of desert.

Though the formation of this white desert happened very recently - less than 7,000 years ago - many species have already adapted to the environment, making the region interesting to evolutionary biologists.

One adaptation involves changing colors from dark to light in order to become camouflaged from overhead predators.

To find out if the same gene was used by different species to make this change, Rosenblum studied three species of lizards.

What she discovered is that two of the three species - the fence lizard and the whiptail lizard - did indeed use the same gene that controls the production of melanin; the same substance that controls the color of human hair.

Other studies have shown mice and birds use this same gene to control color as well.

But Rosenblum took her research deeper.

She discovered that the lizards use the gene in different ways, which affects whether a white back is a dominant or recessive trait, and thus the rate of adaptation.

“It shows a difference in the function of a single gene can actually matter,” she said.

The gene in question creates receptors that sit in the membranes of cells that make melanin and transmits a signal that controls melanin production. (ANI)

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