The Mutation Catalyst
Slow, gradual changes have been thought of as the standard rule of biological evolution and long term geological processes, but new research conducted at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies revealed a new force behind the evolution of DNA acting as a catalyst for change.
The study, published in mid-September in the journal of Science, reveals that an organism's epigenetic code can evolve faster than the core genetic code, filtering and influencing the course of the organism's evolution.
This "hidden" code was observed in the plant Arabidopsis thaliana linking DNA and the passing down of biological traits. Researches believe that what they have observed in this plant species will give new insights into the evolutionary leaps between species and the course of evolution that are not strictly subject to the genetical foundation.
According to Joseph Ecker, who led the research team, they "found that these plants have an epigenetic code that's more flexible and influential than we imagined… it's possible that we humans have a similar active epigenetic mechanism that controls our biological characteristics and gets passed down to our children." Though, as team member Robert Schmitz clarifies, "there is very little change between each generation… spontaneous epimutations do exist in populations and arise at a rate much higher than the DNA mutations rate, and at times they had a powerful influence over how certain genes were expressed."
Flexibility and diversity, those are two words that have been reshaping the evolutionary paradigm and the notion of survival of the fittest, finding that nature celebrates those agile enough to adapt to the changing systems of interconnectedness.
Image: "DNA String..." by 2edeveloperteam on Flickr courtesy of Creative Commons Licensing.Tweet