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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2013 Jun;1289:1-17. doi: 10.1111/nyas.12139. Epub 2013 May 16.

Specific-gene studies of evolutionary mechanisms in an age of genome-wide surveying.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Stanford University, Stanford, California and Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, Crested Butte, Colorado, USA.


The molecular tools of genomics have great power to reveal patterns of genetic difference within or among species, but must be complemented by the mechanistic study of the genetic variants found if these variants' evolutionary meaning is to be well understood. Central to this purpose is knowledge of the organisms' genotype-phenotype-environment interactions, which embody biological adaptation and constraint and thus drive natural selection. The history of this approach is briefly reviewed. Strategies embracing the complementarity of genomics and specific-gene studies in evolution are considered. Implementation of these strategies, and examples showing their feasibility and power, are discussed. Initial generalizations emphasize: (1) reproducibility of adaptive mechanisms; (2) evolutionary co-importance of variation in protein sequences and expression; (3) refinement of rudimentary molecular functions as an origin of evolutionary innovations; (4) identification of specific-gene mechanisms as underpinnings of genomic or quantitative genetic variation; and (5) multiple forms of adaptive or constraining epistasis among genes. Progress along these lines will advance understanding of evolution and support its use in addressing urgent medical and environmental applications.

© 2013 New York Academy of Sciences.

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