Scientists make major breakthrough in evolution process

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Deactivating A Gene In Beetles Resulted In Growth Of Bizarre New Body Part

Researchers at the Indiana University have gained insights into how genes serve the trait evolution process.

Their subjects were "...horned beetles of the genus Onthophagus, also known as dung beetles...and...Tribolium, or flour beetles, which do not have horns."

During the trials, the team deactivated the orthodenticle genes, which appeared to have no function beyond the larval stage, in dung beetles and something extraordinary happened.

The specimens lost their horns and grew eyes on top of their heads.

When the experiment was repeated on flour beetles, no such subtractions or additions occurred.

Eduardo Zattara, the lead researcher of the study, noted, "We were amazed that shutting down a gene could not only turn off development of horns and major regions of the head, but also turn on the development of very complex structures such as compound eyes in a new location...The fact that this doesn't happen in Tribolium is equally significant, as it suggests that orthodenticle genes have acquired a new function: to direct head and horn formation only in the highly modified head of horned beetle."

It also indicates genes can change roles, serving as key players in specific trait formation for a time then becoming an ancillary agent in the development of others.

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