Study questions 'cost of complexity' in evolution

Mar 31, 2008

Higher organisms do not have a “cost of complexity” — or slowdown in the evolution of complex traits — according to a report by researchers at Yale and Washington University in Nature.

Biologists have long puzzled over the relationship between evolution of complex traits and the randomness of mutations in genes. Some have proposed that a “cost of complexity” makes it more difficult to evolve a complicated trait by random mutations, because effects of beneficial mutations are diluted.

“While a mutation in a single gene can have effects on multiple traits, even as diverse as the structures of brain, kneecap and genitalia, we wondered how often random mutation would affect many traits” said lead author Gunter Wagner professor and chair of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale. The phenomenon wherein mutation in a single gene can have effects on multiple traits is known as pleiotropy.

This study showed that most mutations only do affect few traits. Further, the effect of an individual mutation is not dampened because of its effects on other traits.

Observing 70 skeletal characteristics in the mouse, the researchers identified total of 102 genomic regions that affect the skeleton. They concluded that substitution in each genome segment affected a relatively small subset of characteristics and that the effect on each characteristic increased with the total number of traits affected.

“You wouldn’t expect to make a lot of random adjustments — at the same time — to tune up a car,” said Wagner. “Similarly, it appears that tuning up a complex trait in a living organism is well coordinated and the effects of pleiotropy are more focused than we thought.”

Citation: Nature 452: (March 27, 2008) doi:10.1038/nature06756

Source: Yale University

Explore further: Research suggests ELABELA hormone plays a key role in endoderm and heart development

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Rainbow trout genome sequenced

21 hours ago

Using fish bred at Washington State University, an international team of researchers has mapped the genetic profile of the rainbow trout, a versatile salmonid whose relatively recent genetic history opens ...

Gene removal could have implications beyond plant science

Apr 16, 2014

(Phys.org) —For thousands of years humans have been tinkering with plant genetics, even when they didn't realize that is what they were doing, in an effort to make stronger, healthier crops that endured climates better, ...

Recommended for you

Citizen scientists match research tool when counting sharks

11 hours ago

Shark data collected by citizen scientists may be as reliable as data collected using automated tools, according to results published April 23, 2014, in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Gabriel Vianna from The University of Wes ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

FDA proposes first regulations for e-cigarettes

The federal government wants to prohibit sales of electronic cigarettes to minors and require approval for new products and health warning labels under regulations being proposed by the Food and Drug Administration.

Brazil enacts Internet 'Bill of Rights'

Brazil's president signed into law on Wednesday a "Bill of Rights" for the digital age that aims to protect online privacy and promote the Internet as a public utility by barring telecommunications companies ...