Clones on task serve greater good, evolutionary study shows

EAST LANSING, Mich. Dont ever change isnt just a romantic platitude. Its a solid evolutionary strategy. At least if youre among the creatures that produce scads of genetically identical offspring like microbes, plants or water fleas. These creatures provide a chance to wonder about the clones raised in near-identical environments that turn out differently than their kin.

In this weeks Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a Michigan State University zoologist joins others in reporting how the greater good of a genetic pool of identical organisms is affected when a few individuals break from the developmental pack.

Ian Dworkin, an assistant professor of zoology, worked with a on the paper Genetics of Microenvironmental Canalization in Arabidopsis Thaliana the group tackled the question of canalization -- a measure of the ability of a genotype to produce the same traits regardless of variability of its environment. As Dworkin puts it, Canalization is the robustness, because in many cases its better to just shake off the minor fluctuations in the environment because in evolution, there are optimal traits to have, a place you want to be. Canalization prevents you from the minor screw ups along the way eating wrong, getting too much sun. It keeps you in the zone.

The group studied different cloned offspring of the Arabadopsis, a plant of the mustard family commonly used to test genetic questions. Arabadopsis can have many offspring that are genetically identical. Yet, just like human twins, these identical plants still have subtle individual differences. The question: Does an individual jumping on an extra bit of sunshine or rain shower to grow taller affect the groups overall reproductive health" Dworkin paints a hypothetical family tale of two Arabadopsis families. All the offspring of plant A can grow up in near-identical environments, with pretty much the same water, sunshine and soil. But even in that stable home, little varia

Contact: Ian Dworkin
Michigan State University

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