Genetic recombination - combining genes from two different individuals into the genetic set of an offspring - is what sexual reproduction is all about. But what does it mean to a population?
Combining genomics, ecology, mathematics and other disciplines, an NSF Frontiers in Integrative Biological Research project, led by Michael Lynch at Indiana University, hopes to find out by focusing on the mechanisms and impacts of genetic recombination in water fleas, tiny freshwater crustaceans of the genus Daphnia.
The life cycle of water fleas - and whether they reproduce sexually or not - depends on the conditions in their pond. During the summer, most Daphnia are female and reproduce without mating, but, as the water begins to chill, more males are produced and sexual reproduction occurs. But the fertilized eggs that result from this meiotic cycle may lie dormant for years. Indeed centuries-old viable eggs have been recovered from sediments, and other eggs thousands of years old still harbor DNA that can be analyzed.
This gives Lynch's team the opportunity to ask questions about the short- and long-term impacts of genetic recombination. For example, how does it affect the accumulation of mutations? And does it help the population adapt to stress?
According to Susan Porter Ridley, who directs an NSF program on genome structures, "Meiosis, the hallmark of sexual reproduction, provides an opportunity for an organism to generate new genetic combinations. It has long been supposed that this might confer an evolutionary advantage." This project, she said, "shows great promise" to meet the challenge of testing this notion.
Lead principal investigator (Indiana University):
Media contact at Indiana University: David Bricker, (812) 856-9035, firstname.lastname@example.org
Total NSF funding, through August 2008: $5,000,627
Award abstract: https://www.fastlane.nsf.gov/servlet/showaward?award=0328516
The FIBR projects announced today include the following:
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