100-million-year-old mistake provides snapshot of evolution

Oct 18, 2010

Research by University of Leeds plant scientists has uncovered a snapshot of evolution in progress, by tracing how a gene mutation over 100 million years ago led flowers to make male and female parts in different ways.

The findings – published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) Online Early Edition – provide a perfect example of how diversity stems from such genetic 'mistakes'. The research also opens the door to further investigation into how plants make – the origins of the seeds and fruits that we eat.

In a number of plants, the gene involved in making male and female organs has duplicated to create two, very similar, copies. In rockcress (Arabidopsis), one copy still makes male and female parts, but the other copy has taken on a completely new role: it makes seed pods shatter open. In snapdragons (Antirrhinum), both genes are still linked to sex organs, but one copy makes mainly female parts, while still retaining a small role in male organs – but the other copy can only make male.

"Snapdragons are on the cusp of splitting the job of making male and female organs between these two genes, a key moment in the evolutionary process," says lead researcher Professor of Plant Development, Brendan Davies, from Leeds' Faculty of Biological Sciences. "More genes with different roles gives an organism added complexity and opens the door to diversification and the creation of new species."

By tracing back through the evolutionary 'tree' for flowering plants, the researchers calculate the gene duplication took place around 120 million years ago. But the mutation which separates how snapdragons and rock cress use this extra gene happened around 20 million years later.

The researchers have discovered that the different behaviour of the gene in each plant is linked to one amino acid. Although the genes look very similar, the proteins they encode don't always have this amino acid. When it is present, the activity of the protein is limited to making only male parts. When the amino acid isn't there, the protein is able to interact with a range of other proteins involved in flower production, enabling it to make both male and female parts.

"A small mutation in the gene fools the plant's machinery to insert an extra amino acid and this tiny change has created a dramatic difference in how these plants control making their reproductive organs," says Professor Davies. "This is in action, although we don't know yet whether this mutation will turn out to be a dead end and go no further or whether it might lead to further complexities.

"Our research is an excellent example of how a chance imperfection sparks evolutionary change. If we lived in a perfect world, it would be a much less interesting one, with no diversity and no chance for new species to develop."

The researchers now plan to study the protein interactions which enable the production of both male and female parts as part of further investigation into the genetic basis by which plants produce flowers.

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User comments : 14

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210
Oct 18, 2010
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210
1.3 / 5 (15) Oct 18, 2010
provide a perfect example of how diversity stems from such genetic 'mistakes'.
It can only be a mistake if it deviated from a known and established PLAN or diagram. We had 120 million years of ONE THING and then 100 million years later, something changed and made something new...OKAY!
Are we tracking all factors that lead to such minor change over such long periods of time?! And in such tiny and exposed genomes?!
There has to be a science that combines 'what-was-happening-locally-THEN' with what was the range of gene expression available before and after across plant genomes!
Evo, is NOT just survival but also optimization and we are getting a VERY narrow picture that is NOT helping us see evo for all it may be!
I mean it made the news so how about the some CSI-Jurassic Park type action here?!
210
1.2 / 5 (17) Oct 18, 2010
the different behaviour of the gene in each plant is linked to one amino acid"
I went to Vegas, I was rolling the dice. The fat ladies ice lash actually fell on the crapper and the table clerk gave me another free roll.
A SINGLE amino acid, over 120 million years and by gosh all the old features and attributes were partially or wholly preserved..!
Now THAT was a well aimed eyelash! DANG!
Evo, show thyself to be true and then to man be false!
Vendicar_Decarian
3.4 / 5 (10) Oct 18, 2010
"Okay, Okay, now how did the Snapdragon manage to 'inject' its ability to perform in the described manner into the many millions of plants." - Tard

The silly presumption that such a thing occurred is yours.

Why do you think such silly things?
Vendicar_Decarian
3.9 / 5 (11) Oct 18, 2010
"Evolution AS WE ARE DISCOVERING OR DESCRIBING it now many millions of years later, appears t be GUIDED!" - Tard

To the extent that the shape of the evolutionary key is guided by the nature of the environmental lock.
brainiac125
4.1 / 5 (9) Oct 19, 2010
don't feed the trolls
210
1.4 / 5 (10) Oct 19, 2010
"Okay, Okay, now how did the Snapdragon manage to 'inject' its ability to perform in the described manner into the many millions of plants." - Tard

The silly presumption that such a thing occurred is yours.

Why do you think such silly things?

Wha? There are now Billions of plants at LEAST that exhibit the described traits. The author claims that this is EVOLUTIONARY and does not exclude anything from being affected seeing as it is evolutionary!
SO, if you cannot answer the question, desist from name calling and admit, to the world, that well, YOU are the author :-)
Vendicar_Decarian
2.7 / 5 (7) Oct 19, 2010
"There are now Billions of plants at LEAST that exhibit the described traits." - Tard

And you feel that they are all the progeny of one ancestor that held that trait.

Wha? Indeed.

Why do you think such silly things?
_ilbud
4.5 / 5 (8) Oct 19, 2010
420/2 you don't have any idea what evolution is because you're a religitard. You people don't respect anything, you'll lie cheat and steal without compunction. Someone lied to you about what evolution is and now you're lying to us. The problem is we're not uneducated cretins on our knees thanking nothing for what we already have.
I recommend you give up your false gods and pay attention to reality for a change.
Objectivist
5 / 5 (6) Oct 19, 2010
I wonder what would happen if I would to enter a website that provides scientific news (read by people obviously interested in scientific findings) and looked for an article regarding evolution, proceeded to just frantically spam the comments field of that article about how evolution was a big lie and at the same time took the opportunity to capitalize random words for added flavor.

No wait... nevermind.
tkjtkj
5 / 5 (5) Oct 19, 2010
This is not the place for religion. Please, mr. moderator .. please find some way to put an end to user 210's rantings ..

(to be sure that the moderator does read my note here, i'm gonna flag it as 'abusive' , tho it's clearly not, to the science-minded)
aswicks
1.5 / 5 (4) Oct 19, 2010
I observe that the creationist person does not dispute the material reported (the gene exists), only its interpretation (evolution). Both the creationist and non-creationist have the same data. Why then is there this big debate? Because each has made certain fundamental assumptions about the origin and progress of the universe - and then they interpret (filter) data in light of these assumptions (models) to support these assumptions - and both claim that it proves their assumptions. Gentlemen, assumptions are assumptions and your world views are based on them. Each side can interpret the same facts to support their view (model) of the generation of the physical universe. Since the world views of each of these two parties completely precludes the others world view, there can be no discussion on these points. Also, each side believes that the data supports their model of reality. It is like teaching a pig to sing; it is a waste of time and just irritates the pig.
Javinator
5 / 5 (4) Oct 19, 2010
and just irritates the pig.


So you assume... ;)
Skeptic_Heretic
3 / 5 (2) Oct 19, 2010
I wonder what would happen if I would to enter a website that provides scientific news (read by people obviously interested in scientific findings) and looked for an article regarding evolution, proceeded to just frantically spam the comments field of that article about how evolution was a big lie and at the same time took the opportunity to capitalize random words for added flavor.

No wait... nevermind.

Then you'd be providing through assistance of someone like myself, hours of entertainment for a small group of people.
Truth
5 / 5 (1) Oct 20, 2010
210, I highly suggest you sit down, avoid caffeine for the next few days, then try to analyze why you get so riled up over something that most people find educational and fascinating. We're not here to threaten your personal beliefs. We just want to investigate and learn. Remember, this is a science forum, not a tent revival, so please keep your frothings under control.