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Sticklebacks reveal secrets to evolutionary change in Stanford study

suggest that the same set of genes was responsible for the loss of hind fins in two widely separated geographic locations.

"It looks like evolution is using this gene repeatedly," Kingsley said.

The work fits into a growing pattern in evolutionary biology. Although animals look dramatically different, in some cases only a few gene changes account for the differences. "It looks like a small number of genes can have large effects," said Shapiro.

The work also addressed how a few gene changes cause large evolutionary shifts. Most genes have many roles in an animal, so mutations kill the animal rather than altering its shape. Mice with mutated Pitx1, for example, die soon after birth. In the sticklebacks, however, the group found alterations in the location of the Pitx1 gene activity. Although the Pitx1 protein doesn't show up in the developing pelvic region of the fish lacking hind fins, the gene still does its normal job in other regions such as in the thymus and olfactory bulbs.

"We think this is how evolution has been able to sidestep major problems. It only subtracts part of what the gene normally does," Kingsley said.


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Contact: Amy Adams
amyadams@stanford.edu
650-723-3900
Stanford University Medical Center
14-Apr-2004


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