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5 December 2013 11:26 am ,
Vol. 342 ,
Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and...
Thousands of scientists in the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) are about to lose their jobs as a result of the...
Dyslexia, a learning disability that hinders reading, hasn't been associated with deficits in vision, hearing, or...
Exotic, elusive, and dangerous, snakes have fascinated humankind for millennia. They can be hard to find, yet their...
Researchers have sequenced and analyzed the first two snake genomes, which represent two evolutionary extremes. The...
Snake venoms are remarkably complex mixtures that can stun or kill prey within minutes. But more and more researchers...
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
Since arriving on the island of Guam in the 1940s, the brown tree snake ( Boiga irregularis ) has extirpated native...
- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
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ScienceShot: To Feast on Toxic Plant, Insects Find Common Genetic Ground
27 September 2012 2:00 pm
Organisms often come up with the same evolutionary solution to thrive in a niche environment. For example, observe the matching colors among the bugs and butterflies that feed on the common milkweed and its relative dogbane. But for milkweed-eaters, this parallel evolution is more than skin-deep: A study of 14 of these insect species—from three insect orders and spanning 300 million years in evolution—shows that this repeatability occurs on a molecular level. Milkweed produces a toxin that disables a key protein in the animals that eat these plants; this protein helps transport ions that are important for muscle contraction, neural function, and other cellular processes. To get around this toxin, most of these milkweed-eating insects have undergone the same set of genetic mutations that alter the protein so the toxin can't stick to it. Meanwhile, four other insect species independently found a different work-around: Instead of altering the protein, these insects duplicated the protein's gene. That way, the original protein can still do its job of transporting ions—and the extra copy is free to change its amino acid sequence in a variety of places to make these species resistant to the toxin, researchers report online today in Science. With so many distantly related insects finding the same genetic routes to milkweed tolerance, the team concludes that evolution is repeatable—although gene duplication can also open up new evolutionary opportunities.
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