Animal and plant genes hard-wired for speciation

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Animal and plant genes hard-wired for speciation

Postby Brian Jordan » Fri Sep 17, 2010 2:11 pm

The genomes of both plants and animals seem to act as engines for speciation, as they are 'hard-wired' to encourage the development of new species, according to findings on two very different groups of organisms.

Two papers published in this week's Science1,2 provide the first empirical evidence that when two diverging populations of organisms become unable to interbreed — a phenomenon known as hybrid sterility or incompatibility — the number of genes that prevent them from producing viable offspring starts to 'snowball'. This process encourages the evolution of new species.

Incompatibility genes can have a variety of effects in offspring, such as interfering with sperm production.

The Dobzhansky-Muller model of hybrid incompatibility, named for the two researchers who in the 1930s and '40s laid the theoretical groundwork for the snowball effect, has, however, remained only a theory till now.

Previous studies looked at levels of infertility rather than the number of genes involved and failed to find the snowball effect. But now two papers produced independently and published in Science provide the first empirical evidence backing the theory, and between them they span both plants and animals. Dmitry Filatov, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Oxford, UK, says this is surprising because plants are much more prone to interspecies hybridisation than animals. ... 0.476.html
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