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Is genetic evolution predictable?
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Parallel evolution, which refers different species or populations that share a common ancestor independently evolve the same trait by changing the same genes.

Mutations underlying parallel evolution have been studied to understand the predictability of evolution, i.e. whether certain traits can be shaped by specific gene (s).

Flowering time is an important adaptive life-history trait in plants. Capsella rubella, a close relative of Arabidopsis thaliana, has reduced standing genetic variation due to an extreme bottleneck event early in its evolutionary history.

Nonetheless, natural accessions (varieties within the species) of C. rubella display extensive variation for flowering time. Investigation of the molecular basis of flowering time variation in C. rubella therefore provides a unique opportunity to study parallel evolution in plants with limited standing genetic variation. The goal of this study is to explore how such wide variation in flowering time can occur in a species with limited genetic variation.

A joint team from Institute of Botany (Chinese Academy of Sciences), University of Science and Technology of China, University of British Columbia and Monash University, led by professor Ya-Long Guo, demonstrated that common allelic variation and parallel evolution at the FLC locus (the same gene known to play a key role in the regulation of flowering time in Arabidopsis) confer variation in flowering time in C. rubella.

Two overlapping deletions in the 5’ UTR region of C. rubella FLC reduce its expression levels and promote flowering (Yang et al., 2018, Plant Cell). More importantly, this study provides an example of how parallel mutations in the same 5’ UTR region can shape phenotypic evolution in plants.

In the same issue, Plant cell highlighted this paper (https://doi.org/10.1105/tpc.18.00438), and pointed out that “Although we cannot (yet) ‘replay the tape’ of life, studies like this one show that sometimes life finds a way… to repeat itself”.

It will be of great interest to clarify the extent to which parallel evolution shapes variation in other traits among natural populations of C. rubella, and more broadly, the role of parallel evolution in diverse taxa in general.




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