Studies Reveal Evolutionary Origin of Unique Traits in Pitcher Plants and Marine Snails

In a pair of studies in Science, researchers use different approaches to investigate how complex and innovative phenotypic traits evolve in plants and animals. “The amazing breadth of plant and animal diversity across the globe has evolved by circuitous paths, and resolving the complex history of genomes and traits unlocks new depths for understanding evolution,” writes Kathryn Elmer in a related Perspective piece in Science. Although biological traits are constantly changing in populations, the emergence of a trait that provides a unique function is a far rarer occurrence. These “game-changing” evolutionary innovations can result from multiple independent biological adaptations that, in combination, produce complex phenotypic traits. However, the origin of composite traits has remained largely a mystery as it requires coordinated evolution of components that might not be beneficial or even functional on their own or in disparate combinations.

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