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Crop Biotech Update

Scientists Unlock 51 Million-Year-Old Genetic Secret to Darwin's Theory

December 7, 2016

Scientists from University of East Anglia working at the John Innes Centre have identified the cluster of genes responsible for reproductive traits in the Primula flower, first noted by Charles Darwin more than 150 years ago.

Darwin hypothesized that plant species with two distinct forms of flower evolved that way to promote out-crossing by insect pollinators. His insight coined the term ‘heterostyly', and subsequent studies contributed to the foundation of modern genetic theory.

The research team sequenced the Primula genome to find the specific gene cluster responsible for creating the differing flower morphs. They identified the supergene directly responsible for the phenomenon noted by Darwin as the S locus. They realized that the S locus gene was a close relative of another gene identified six years ago as responsible for controlling the identity of petals on the same plant. This gene duplicated at some point, inserted itself in the S locus, and mutated to control the position of the anther in the flower. Finding this duplicated gene allowed the team to identify the date when the first mutation occurred.

For more information, read the news release at the University of East Anglia website.