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article imageMice Show Genetic Change Happens Fast

By Bob Ewing     Oct 20, 2007 in Science
Adapt and survive, don't and die is part and parcel of evolution, two scientists have conducted a study that shows that adaptation in a species may be happening faster than previously believed.
Oliver Pergrams is a visiting research assistant professor of biological science at the University of Chicago. Pergrams and Robert Lacy, population geneticist and conservation biologist at the Chicago Zoological Society, have studied the genetic makeup of a common field mice, and found that both genes and morphology can change faster than previously believed.
The two researchers compared the genetic makeup of 115 white-footed mice in the Volo Bog State Natural Area which is just north of Chicago. The two used mitochondrial DNA taken from collection samples as old as 150 years and mice collected in recent years.
What they found was that a new type of mouse had replaced the old type in the Volo Bog and that this had happened between 1976 and 2001.
"The new mice were genetically very different," Pergams said in a press release. "Looking at size and shape, the new mice were much bigger and a little flatter.”
Pergrams was working with UIC biological sciences professor Mary Ashley, in 2001, when he found similar morphological changes in size and shape over the past century of two widely disparate habitats and species. The study examined deer mice on three different California Channel Islands, and black rats from two Galapagos Islands.
The changes noticed in the Volo Bog mice maybe explained because the old mice were being replaced by new mice who were migrating from distinct neighboring populations that are better adapted to survival in the protected bog. The bog is now surrounded by suburban residential communities.
"This was likely helped by the large environmental changes occurring over the 1976-2001 time period. Replacement with better-adapted genotypes from external populations may be a common way evolution works in an increasingly human-impacted world," Pergrams said.
"It was surprising to us to see how fast genetic and physical change could occur even in the wild population," Lacy said.
"Humans are changing the global environment at unprecedented rates," he said. "Plants and animals react to these massive environmental changes either by going extinct or [by] adapting very rapidly," said Pergrams.
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