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Stanford evolution research cited by Science as a 2005 breakthrough

When the editors at Science looked back over the research reported in 2005, they decided that several high-impact discoveries made evolution stand out as the Breakthrough of the Year. Among the research highlighted is work by David Kingsley, PhD, professor of developmental biology at Stanford University School of Medicine, who studies the evolutionary process in a diverse group of fish called the stickleback.

In a roundup of breakthroughs to be published in the journal's Dec. 23 issue, Science points out that evolution is the underpinning of all biological research. "Today evolution is the foundation of all biology, so basic and all-pervasive that scientists sometimes take its importance for granted," the editors wrote.

Kingsley's highlighted work was published in the March 25 issue of Science, when he reported finding that 15 isolated freshwater stickleback populations all lost their bony armor through mutations in the same gene. This was among the first times that scientists had shown the same genetic change was responsible for an evolutionary adaptation in disparate populations.

"Our work shows that even major morphological changes are controlled by relatively simple mechanisms," Kingsley said.

Many researchers have previously shown evolution in biochemical processes, such as antibiotic resistance. But some evolution critics had argued that it would be impossible to evolve large morphological changes in natural populations. "That is obviously false," said Kingsley, who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. "Sticklebacks with major changes in skeletal armor and fin structures are thriving in natural environments. And the major differences between forms can now be traced to particular genes."

Sticklebacks evolved from a relatively uniform marine population into today's broad spectrum of shapes and sizes when the last Ice Age ended roughly 10,000 years ago. Because ocean fish quickly evolved into such distinc
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Contact: Amy Adams
amyadams@stanford.edu
650-723-3900
Stanford University Medical Center
22-Dec-2005


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