Fish may show how nature diversifies

ngle chromosome region.

The fish use these spines for defense against predators, said Kingsley. The total length of these spines sets the cross-sectional diameter of the fish, which helps determine whether or not they get eaten by predators like trout. Having both spine lengths controlled by the same genetic region may help explain how the fish achieve useful modifications of these functionally related skeletal structures.

The overall results point to many different chromosome regions that affect specific aspects of skeletal anatomy in sticklebacks and reveal a flexible genetic system for independent modification of the size and number of different feeding and armor structures, the authors report. But perhaps more important, said Kingsley, is the creation of a resource that will help bring together a large body of ecological work with the tools of modern genomics to create a new major model organism for the study of evolution of species.

There is a lot of interest right now in comparative genomics, said Kingsley. But for most of the species proposed to be studied, the timescale of evolutionary divergence is enormous, making it difficult to sort out which genetic changes are truly responsible for species differences. In contrast with the sticklebacks, this genetic approach lets the organism tell us where the relevant genes are. Rather than betting on a favorite gene being important, we let the fish tell us which chromosome regions we should pay attention to. Those regions can then be studied in detail to identify the molecular basis of evolutionary changes in vertebrates.


Contact: Jim Keeley
Howard Hughes Medical Institute

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