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Environment drives genetics in 'Evolution Canyon'; discovery sheds light on climate change
Date:12/11/2013

as much sun, while the north-facing slope is more like a European forest.

Knowledge that climatic and environmental factors seem to exert a significant effect on the fruit-fly genome in spite of migration or repopulations adds to current understanding of the biodiversity, resilience, and ability of a species to adapt to rapid climate change.

The native fruit fly in question Drosophila melanogaster is a well-studied laboratory animal and the source of the world's knowledge of how genetic information is packaged in chromosomes.

More than 65 percent of disease-causing genes in humans are believed to have functional counterparts in the fly, including many genes involved in certain cancers, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, heart disease, and other medical conditions.

Researchers used a technique known as whole genome sequencing to characterize the complete set of DNA in the total population of the fruit flies, noting differences in the genetic makeup between the populations on the opposing slopes.

The international team, which included scientists from the Institute of Evolution at Haifa University, the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, discovered 572 genes were significantly different in frequency between the populations, corroborating previous observations of differences in heat tolerance, life history, and mating behavior.

In addition, researchers discovered that genetic changes were accumulating in chromosomal "islands" in the north-facing-slope flies, suggesting adaptive gene mutations would sweep through the population, given time.

Migration of flies between the slopes was confirmed by capturing and marking them with florescence.

"Although we were not correlating genetic change with climate change, we were looking at heat-stress effects, which gives us an indirect understanding relevant to global climate changes,"
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Contact: John Pastor
jdpastor@vt.edu
540-231-5646
Virginia Tech
Source:Eurekalert

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