University of Georgia professor writes first book on phylogeography--a field of study that he helped found

ATHENS, Ga. - University of Georgia geneticist Dr. John Avise has written the first textbook on a field that he helped to found and develop. His book, Phylogeography: the History and Formation of Species, is about the geographical distribution of genealogical lineages and was just published by Harvard University Press. He asked the audience how he might examine regulatory genes, and one researcher asked Avise if he'd considered using restriction enzymes to assay such pieces of DNA.

Restriction enzymes are chemicals that naturally cut DNA in certain places. Knowledge of them was so new in 1975 that Avise had never even heard of them. He found one professor, Dr. Robert Lansman, who knew about restriction enzymes, but his work was not on regulatory genes. Instead, Lansman studied the DNA of mitochondria, tiny cell-bound packages that generate energy for the cells.

Soon, Avise was deep in the study of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), mainly as a training exercise. He didn't know then that he was on the trail of an entirely new scientific discipline. Intriguing questions kept arising at every turn.

"Over time, many unorthodox perspectives on evolution eventually were to emerge from studies of mitochondrial DNA," said Avise, "but years would pass before relatively clear answers to some of the questions would be forthcoming."

By the late 1970s, the study of mtDNA was generating considerable excitement in laboratories around the world. Early on, Avise had the idea that mtDNA might be a wonderful tool for analyzing the evolution of certain vertebrates. Scientis

Contact: John Avise
University of Georgia

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