Evolution, often perceived as a series of random changes, might in fact be driven by a simple and repeated genetic solution to an environmental pressure that a broad range of specieshappen to share, according to new research.
Princeton University research published in the journal Science suggests that knowledge of a species' genes and how certain external conditions affect the proteins encoded by those genes could be used to determine a predictable evolutionary pattern driven by outside factors. Scientists could then pinpoint how the diversity of adaptations seen in the natural world developed even in distantly related animals.
"Is evolution predictable? To a surprising extent the answer is yes," said senior researcher Peter Andolfatto, an assistant professor in Princeton's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics. He worked with lead author and postdoctoral research associate Ying Zhen, and graduate students Matthew Aardema and Molly Schumer, all from Princeton's ecology and evolutionary biology department, as well as Edgar Medina, a biological sciences graduate student at the University of the Andes in Colombia.
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The researchers carried out a survey of DNA sequences from 29 distantly related insect species, the largest sample of organisms yet examined for a single evolutionary trait. Fourteen of these species have evolved a nearly identical characteristic due to one external influence they feed on plants that produce cardenolides, a class of steroid-like cardiotoxins that are a natural defense for plants such as milkweed and dogbane.<
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