Researchers from Princeton University in the United States and Uppsala University in Sweden have identified a gene in the Galápagos finches studied by English naturalist Charles Darwin that influences beak shape and that played a role in the birds' evolution from a common ancestor more than 1 million years ago. The study illustrates the genetic foundation of evolution, including how genes can flow from one species to another, and how different versions of a gene within a species can contribute to the formation of entirely new species, the researchers report in Nature, in an article that was published online on February 11, 2015 one day before birthday anniversary of Darwin, who studied the finches during the 1835 voyage that would lead him to publish the seminal work on evolution, "On the Origin of Species," in 1859. The article was entitled "Evolution of Darwin's Finches and Their Beaks Revealed by Genome Sequencing," "We now know more about the genetic basis for our evolutionary studies, and this is a highly satisfactory, very exciting discovery after all these years," said Dr. Peter Grant, Princeton's Class of 1877 Professor of Zoology, Emeritus, and a Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Emeritus. Together with co-author and wife Dr. B. Rosemary Grant, a senior biologist in ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton, Dr. Peter Grant has studied the finches for 40 years on the arid, rocky islands of Daphne Major and Genovesa in the Galápagos archipelago. The latest study reveals how evolution occurs in halting and disordered steps, with many opportunities for genes to spread in different species and create new lineages. Given the right conditions, such as isolation from the original population and an accumulation of genetic differences, these lineages can eventually evolve into entirely new species.
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