Science: DNA mutations are not so random

The Story:

A study recently published by the University of California, Davis, and the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Germany may have important implications for the future development of our understanding of biological evolution. The study looks at the gene sequencing of hundreds of Arabidopsis thaliana plants, a flowering weed sometimes known as the “lab rat of plants.”


The sequencing of the DNA of these hundreds of plants disclosed more than one million mutations. Further, the mutations were not random. There was a distinct pattern to them.

The patches of the genome with the lowest mutation rates were: those involved in cell growth or gene expression.

“These are the really important regions of the genome,” said Grey Monroe, an assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences who is the lead author on the paper.  It is as if mutations are most readily allowed (by a broader system) in those parts of the genome that are dispensable.

Strange New Worlds:

The standard Darwinian and neo-darwinian view is that evolution occurs because (a) random variations occur and (b) natural selection, the process of survival of the fittest, determines which of the random variations shall survive. The mutation of a genome is usually seen as the microcosmic theater where that plays itself out. Yet this research suggests that mutations/variations are not entirely random.

Life, in the words of a character from Jurassic Park, “finds a way.”


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