Thursday, July 21, 2011

Catching Evolution in the Act

A new study in the journal Current Biology demonstrates the concepts of micro and macroevolution that we have been talking about in class. A new "super" mouse that is resistant to the rat poison warfarin has been found in Germany. Upon DNA analysis it appears that the mouse has successfully hybridized with another mouse species from Algeria that had this resistance. The new species is a product of both globalization and natural selection. As the article points out:
At some point in the past, Kohn and his team believe the Algerian mice mated with European house mice, conferring their poison resistance to them. This process is called "horizontal gene transfer," and is usually only seen in microbes.

He added, "The process we describe (horizontal gene transfer) introduces more variation in the genomes of populations that would otherwise, by mutation alone, be available. In that regard it potentially could speed up evolution."

Humans appear to be driving the process. The mice from different regions likely would not have met, were it not for spreading via human agricultural practices. Our use of pesticides also played a part.

"Unprofessional and widespread use of poison seems to have favored the evolution and spread of resistant mice and rats," Kohn said. "However, the novel thing reported here is that it has also enabled a potentially important process (hybridization) to turn up something advantageous that usually is not."
To read the whole article, click HERE.

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