There is a link that connects Darwin’s theory of evolution and a gene found in finches.
Finches are what inspired Darwin’s theory of evolution. It wasn’t until he observed that these birds present different types and shapes of beaks, according to the environment they lived in, that he started to think about how animals evolve by adapting to different circumstances and environments.
The scientist first set foot on the Galapagos Islands in 1835 where he noticed the some finches had a different beak shape in comparison to others. The birds he collected were analyzed by his ornithologist friend John Gould who showed him that the collection was comprised of 15 species of finches. The different types of finches varied in relation to beak shape, body size, feeding method and song, as each species adapted according to the environment found on the island the bird lived on. This was the event that triggered Darwin’s idea regarding evolution and adaptation.
Now researchers from the Uppsala and Princeton University have teamed up to examine the species from a genetic point of view.
The team put 120 birds, including all of Darwin’s finch species together with two closely related species through genome sequencing so they could find out more about their history.
The scientists found out that the gene flow between species is one of the main factors that shaped the finches’ history. The ALX1 gene found in finches is different in birds with round beaks in comparison to those with pointed beaks. They even found slight gene modifications in finches that belong to the same species.
Scientists at University of Berkeley tried to explain the gene flow phenomenon on their website as any type of gene movement between two species of the same population. On the website one can find additional details regarding gene flow:
“Gene flow includes lots of different kinds of events, such as pollen being blown to a new destination or people moving to new cities or countries. If genes are carried to a population where those genes previously did not exist, gene flow can be a very important source of genetic variation.”
During their field work in the Galapagos Islands the team observed how hybridization took place between some of the finch species that Darwin studied.
In regards to their observations, Peter Grant, one of the scientists from Princeton University made the following statement:
“Now we can safely conclude that interspecies hybridization has played a critical role in the evolution of the finches, and has contributed to maintaining their genetic diversity”.
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