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Researchers Document Rapid, Dramatic 'Reverse Evolution' in the Threespine Stickleback Fish
Date:5/15/2008

ehind rapid evolutionary change, the idea of "phenotypic plasticity" -- when an organism can take on different characteristics independent of genetic influences. Body type is one such example. "There is some genetic component to body size, but if you eat more nutritious food as a child you're probably going to grow taller than someone who has the same genes but may not have had as good of a diet growing up," Peichel said. "Our findings challenge the primary role of phenotypic plasticity in rapid evolutionary change."

The gene that controls for plating is called Eda, which comes in two forms: one causes low plating and the other complete plating. Peichel was the first person to home in on the neighborhood where the Eda gene lives while a postdoctoral researcher in the laboratory of David Kingsley, Ph.D., at Stanford University.

In humans, mutations in this gene cause a syndrome called ectodermal dysplasia, a group of more than 100 inherited disorders that impact the ectoderm, the outer layer of tissue involved in the formation of many parts of the body, including the skin, nails, hair, teeth and sweat glands.

"There's probably a developmental correlation between these external structures in humans and the bony plates on the fish," Peichel said. "It also looks like the Eda gene was probably important for human evolution although we don't really know in what context," she said.

Collaborators on the study included researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle; the University of Texas in Austin; Gifu Keizai University in Ogaki, Gifu, Japan; and the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature in Kyoto, Japan. The work was supported by a Uehara Memorial Fellowship, the Packard Foundation, Seattle Public Utilities, Water and People Project, and a Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award in the Biomedical Sciences.

At Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, our interdisciplinary teams of world-renowned scientists and humanitarians wor
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