The hitchhiker's guide to altruism -- Study explains how costly traits evolve

January 19, 2007

Darwin explained how beneficial traits accumulate in natural populations, but how do costly traits evolve? In the past, two theories have addressed this problem.

The theory of hitchhiking suggests that genes that confer a cost to their bearer can become common in natural populations when they "hitch a ride" with fitter genes that are being favored by natural selection. Conversely, the theory of kin selection suggests that costly traits can be favored if they lead to benefits for relatives of the bearer, who also carry the gene.

"Animal traits are not always independent. For example, people with blond hair are more likely to have blue eyes," explains Andy Gardner (Oxford University). "This is a nuisance for natural selection, which could not, for instance, favor blond hair without also indirectly favoring blue eyes, and this is the idea of genetic hitchhiking."

Kin selection is similar, but here the genetic associations are between different individuals: "If I have a gene that makes me more altruistic, then I can also expect my relatives to carry it. So while the immediate effect of the gene is costly for me, I would benefit by receiving altruism from my relatives, and so the gene is ultimately favored," Gardner explains.

New research carried out at the University of Edinburgh and Queen's University, Canada shows that both processes are governed by the same equations. This reveals that kin selection can be seen as a special form of genetic hitchhiking, explain Gardner and his coauthors Stuart West and Nick Barton (University of Edinburgh) in the February issue of The American Naturalist.

The researchers built on a general framework for modeling hitchhiking first proposed by Barton and colleagues, showing how it can be used to describe social evolution and recovering the classical results of kin selection theory. This insight raises the possibility of using the tools of hitchhiking theory to explore social problems that have so far been too complicated to analyze using traditional kin selection techniques.

Source: University of Chicago

Explore further: Miscanthus with improved winter-hardiness could benefit northern growers

Related Stories

Lift teacher status to improve student performance

January 28, 2019

Australia needs to lift the status of teachers to attract the best and brightest to teaching. The world's top-performing school systems make it a national priority to attract the strongest candidates. Improving teacher selection ...

Intelligent males may make female birds swoon: study

January 10, 2019

Male birds are often the ones with the most vibrant feathers, or the most elaborate songs, but researchers said Thursday that what female birds could really appreciate is a male who shows his intelligence.

T. rex bite 'no match for a finch'

January 9, 2019

Tyrannosaurus rex, renowned for being one of the most fearsome creatures to have ever lived, evolved a bite that was less impressive in relation to its body size than a tiny Galapagos ground finch, scientists say.

Recommended for you

After a reset, Сuriosity is operating normally

February 23, 2019

NASA's Curiosity rover is busy making new discoveries on Mars. The rover has been climbing Mount Sharp since 2014 and recently reached a clay region that may offer new clues about the ancient Martian environment's potential ...

Study: With Twitter, race of the messenger matters

February 23, 2019

When NFL player Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice, the ensuing debate took traditional and social media by storm. University of Kansas researchers have ...

Researchers engineer a tougher fiber

February 22, 2019

North Carolina State University researchers have developed a fiber that combines the elasticity of rubber with the strength of a metal, resulting in a tougher material that could be incorporated into soft robotics, packaging ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.