[Paleopsych] UTexas: Species evolve to the brink of evolution

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Species evolve to the brink of evolution

     August 26, 2005

     AUSTIN, Texas--A biologist at The University of Texas at Austin has
     presented a new theory that sheds light on how organisms, including
     viruses like HIV, rapidly evolve in the face of vaccines and

     Dr. Lauren Ancel Meyers says the new model could help identify genes
     that increase a pathogen's ability to evolve quickly against immune
     responses. Knowing those genes could help scientists develop new and
     better vaccines.

     Meyers' model predicts that populations can evolve "genetic
     potential"--genes that can create new traits quickly and simply in
     changing environments.

     "In fluctuating environments, you may get populations evolving right
     to the brink of evolution," says Meyers. The organisms are poised to
     evolve in the face of environmental shifts, because they have genes
     that can produce a new trait essential to their survival with one or
     two simple mutations.

     Meyers' model for rapid evolution appears in the Aug. 26 issue of the
     journal PLoS Computational Biology.

     Genetic mutations create the variation that natural selection acts
     upon. But mutations can be disadvantageous or even deadly, so
     organisms have evolved so that most simple mutations have little or no
     biological impact. Mutations are buffered by repair mechanisms and
     redundancies, like other genes that perform the same function.

     For organisms constantly facing new challenges in ever-changing
     environments, however, there's an advantage to creating new traits
     quickly. Previous explanations of rapid evolution have focused on the
     rate at which mutations occur in the genome. These theories suggest
     that populations can evolve new traits faster if they are
     hypermutable, that is, they have faster rates of mutation.

     Meyers' idea is significantly different, because it shows populations
     can adapt quickly without a faster rate of genetic mutation. Instead,
     the populations evolve genes that can be easily altered to create new

     "Evolution can accelerate without changing the mutation rate
     itself--it's the evolution of the ability to evolve--that's the novel
     insight of this work," says Meyers.

     Meyers is an assistant professor in the Section of Integrative Biology
     with a faculty position at the Santa Fe Institute. Co-authors on the
     paper include Meyers' father, Dr. Fredric Ancel, from the University
     of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Dr. Michael Lachmann, of the Max Planck
     Institute in Leipzig, Germany.

     For more information contact: [18]Lee Clippard, College of Natural
     Sciences, 512-232-0675.

Related Sites:

       * [19]Dr. Lauren Ancel Meyers
       * [20]Section of Integrative Biology
       * [21]College of Natural Sciences
       * [22]Santa Fe Institute

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    15. http://www.utexas.edu/opa/news/2005/08/biology26.html#info
    16. http://www.utexas.edu/opa/news.html
    17. http://www.utexas.edu/opa/news/archives.html
    18. mailto:lclippard at mail.utexas.edu
    19. http://www.biosci.utexas.edu/IB/faculty/MEYERS.HTM
    20. http://www.biosci.utexas.edu/ib/
    21. http://www.utexas.edu/cons/
    22. http://www.santafe.edu/
    23. http://www.utexas.edu/opa/news/2005/08/comp_sci11.html
    24. http://www.utexas.edu/opa/news/2005/08/physics03.html
    26. http://www.utexas.edu/features/archive/2003/meyers.html
    27. http://www.utexas.edu/opa/
    28. mailto:utopa at www.utexas.edu

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