Researchers at the Institute of Biotechnology at the Helsinki University and the Universitat Autnoma de Barcelona (UAB) have developed the first three-dimensional simulation of the evolution of morphology by integrating the mechanisms of genetic regulation that take place during embryo development. The study, published in Nature, highlights the real complexity of the genetic interactions that lead to adult organisms' phenotypes (physical forms), helps to explain how natural selection influences body form and leads towards much more realistic virtual experiments on evolution.
"Right now we have a lot of information on what changes in what genes cause what changes in form. But all this is merely descriptive. The issue is to understand the biological logic that determines which changes in form come from which changes in genes and how this can change the body", explains Isaac Salazar, a researcher at the University of Helsinki and in the Department of Genetics and Microbiology of the UAB, and lead author of the article. In nature this is determined by embryo development, during the life of each organism, and by evolution through natural selection, for each population and species.
But in the field of evolution of organisms it is practically impossible to set up experiments, given the long timescale these phenomena operate on. This means that there are still open debates, with hypotheses that are hard to prove experimentally. This difficulty is compensated for by the use of theoretical models to integrate in detail the existing experimental data, thus creating a virtual simulation of evolution.
The researchers used a theoretical model based on experiments on embryo development, on a previous study by the same authors, also published in Nature (Salazar-Ciudad and Jernvall, 2010), and on three different mathematical models of virtual evolution by natural selection of form. Evolution takes place virtually on the computer in popu
|Contact: Maria Jesus Delgado|
Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona