Institute researchers discover that evolution picks up "hitchhikers"
7/22/13 - In a twist on "survival of the fittest," Princeton University researchers have discovered that evolution is driven not by a single beneficial mutation but rather by a group of mutations, including ones called "genetic hitchhikers" that are simply along for the ride. These hitchhikers are mutations that do not appear to have a role in contributing to an organism's fitness and therefore its evolution, yet may play an important role down the road.
The researchers found in a study of 1,000 generations of adaptation in 40 yeast populations that about five to seven specific mutations, rather than just one, are needed for an organism to succeed. The knowledge of how mutations drive evolution can inform our understanding of how tumors resist chemotherapeutics and how bacteria evolve resistance to antibiotics. The study was published July 21 in the journal Nature.
"Our study indicates that evolution is more of a group effort," said Gregory Lang, first author on the paper and an associate research scholar in the laboratory of David Botstein, the Anthony B. Evnin '62 Professor of Genomics at Princeton University's Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics. The research team included co-first author Daniel Rice at Harvard University, who made key contributions to the bioinformatics and data analysis; Michael Desai, an assistant professor at Harvard University and a former Lewis-Sigler Fellow at Princeton; Mark Hickman at Rowan University; and Erica Sodergren and George Weinstock at the Washington University School of Medicine. (Read more)