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: Saving seeds the right way can save the world's plants

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

A mechanism of how biodiversity arises

May 26, 2014

A new study of how biodiversity arises, by evolutionary biologists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, shows how a mutation in a single gene during development can lead to different consequences not ...

Recommended for you

Saving seeds the right way can save the world's plants

1 minute ago

Exotic pests, shrinking ranges and a changing climate threaten some of the world's most rare and ecologically important plants, and so conservationists establish seed collections to save the seeds in banks ...

Sugar mimics guide stem cells toward neural fate

1 hour ago

Embryonic stem cells can develop into a multitude of cells types. Researchers would like to understand how to channel that development into the specific types of mature cells that make up the organs and other structures of ...

Chinese mosquitos on the Baltic Sea

1 hour ago

The analysis of the roughly 3,000 pieces is still in its infant stage. But it is already evident that the results will be of major significance. "Amazingly often, we are finding–in addition to Asian forms–the ...

Baby zebra is latest success in research partnership

2 hours ago

The recent birth of a female Grevy's zebra foal at the Saint Louis Zoo marks another milestone in a long-running Washington University in St. Louis research partnership that is making significant contributions ...

User comments : 0