June 8, 2009

Different genes can cause same effects

U.S. biologists have found the loss of pelvises and body armor in two species of stickleback fish was caused by different genes.

The finding surprised University of Utah researchers, who expected the same genes would control the same evolutionary changes in both related fish.

We knew that in many cases of evolution, the same gene has been used over and over again -- even in different species -- to give the same anatomy, Assistant Professor Mike Shapiro said. What we are finding now is that different genes can have similar effects.

The scientists say their findings shed new light on how evolution produces diversity in nature, and on the evolution of limb loss.

Limb loss is something we see in many other groups -- snakes, whales, manatees and some amphibians, Shapiro said. We can't do genetic studies on those animals. Sticklebacks give us insight into what may be going on in many other animal groups.

The study is available online in the journal Current Biology and will appear in the journal's July 14 print edition.