November 28, 2007

Mosquitoes Demonstrate the Power of Random Mutation and Natural Selection

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchNext time some Creationist dredges up that ridiculous assertion that gene duplications don't add information to an organism's genome, or that mutations are deleterious and that all deleterious mutations are universally bad things, here's a great paper to staple to its forehead:

Labbé P, Berticat C, Berthomieu A, Unal S, Bernard C, et al. (2007) Forty Years of Erratic Insecticide Resistance Evolution in the Mosquito Culex pipiens. PLoS Genet 3(11): e205 doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.0030205
In this study, the authors show very clearly how an allele that reduces fitness in one environment can increase it another. The paper demonstrates how a combination of gene duplication and a simple point mutation results in a mosquito that trades off some fraction of fitness in one trait for a tremendous benefit in another. Additionally, the authors demonstrate that even the deleterious effect of one new allele can be compensated for by another new allele in combination with it, with all of this new diversity arising not in a matter of eons but in mere decades.

All in all, the paper demonstrates just how intricate and how complex the combination of random mutation and natural selection truly is. That the result of all of this is an addition of information could only be doubted by one possessed of the very thickest of skulls.

If you're an undergraduate student trying to get a handle on evolutionary mechanisms, I'd recommend this to you as well. While some of the statistical material may be a bit difficult to tease apart, there's a very clear example here of how all this stuff works in the real world and the paper itself is lucid enough for anyone with high school-level reading comprehension or better to understand much of what's under discussion.

Whodathunk that I'd be sitting here thanking mosquitoes for being resistant to organophosphate pesticides? Ah, but life is strange...

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