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Surprising Science

Speedy Genome

For the first time ever, scientists have measured the speed of genome mutations in plants, casting new light on the fundamental evolutionary process.

“Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany, and Indiana University in Bloomington have now been able to measure for the first time directly the speed with which new mutations occur in plants. Their findings shed new light on a fundamental evolutionary process. They explain, for example, why resistance to herbicides can appear within just a few years. Their research appears in the Jan. 1, 2010 issue of the journal Science. ‘While the long term effects of genome mutations are quite well understood, we did not know how often new mutations arise in the first place,’ said Detlef Weigel, director at the Max Planck Institute in Germany. It is routine today to compare the genomes of related animal or plant species. Such comparisons, however, ignore mutations that have been lost in the millions of years since two species separated. The teams of Weigel and his colleague Michael Lynch at Indiana University therefore wanted to scrutinize the signature of evolution before selection occurs.”


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