Scientists Study Evolution by Recreating Ancient Genes in Fruit Flies

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Researchers at New York University and the University of Chicago recreated fruit flies by implanting engineered ‘ancient genes’ inside them to study about evolutionary changes during its embryonic development.

To shed more light on the evolutionary history of living beings, scientists trace various stages of embryos of different species. Scientists at New York University and the University of Chicago took a step forward, and altered the genes of fruit flies, to observe the embryos with ancient genes. The study was first of its kind to use ancestral reconstruction in the field of evodevo, the evolution of development. The findings were published in the journal eLIfe on October 09, 2018, which demonstrated that around 140 million years ago mutation in two genes changed the functioning of a gene to monitor cerebrum development in all the fruit flies present today.

Joseph Thornton, professor of Ecology, Evolution, and Human Genetics at the University of Chicago and lead author of the study, said, “we found that just two chance mutations were the major causes of a profound change in the animal’s developmental processes—a change that became indispensable in all of its present-day descendants.”

The researchers developed the ancient gene sequences by computationally inferring the modern genes of the flies, then chemically treating the genes and finally placing them in embryos, thus creating transgenic embryos in laboratory. Bicoid gene was mainly observed during the research work, which play a vital role to regulate the functioning and formation of head of embryos or the anterior portion of fruit flies. They sought to understand the working and evolution of bicoid gene and study its effects on the structuring and expression of other genes.

Using all evolutionary changes step by step, the researchers found that two mutations had triggered evolution in fruit flies. The group concluded that these two mutations, when combined, were the predominant causes of bicoid’s functional evolution.

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Latisha Diaz is a general assignment reporter at Plains Gazette. She has covered sports, entertainment and many other beats in his journalism career, and has lived in City Houston for more than 8 years. Latisha has appeared periodically on national television shows and has been published in (among others) The National Post, Politico, The Atlantic, Harper’s, Wired.com, Vice and Salon.com.