Evolution is actually pretty predictable
“Is evolution predictable? To a surprising extent the answer is ‘yes’,” says Princeton professor Peter Andolfatto.
New research by Andolfatto and colleagues published in the journal Science suggests that knowledge of a species’ genes—and how certain external conditions affect the proteins encoded by those genes—could be used to determine a predictable evolutionary pattern driven by outside factors.
Scientists could then pinpoint how the diversity of adaptations seen in the natural world developed even in distantly related animals.
The researchers carried out a survey of DNA sequences from 29 distantly related insect species, the largest sample of organisms yet examined for a single evolutionary trait. Fourteen of these species have evolved a nearly identical characteristic due to one external influence—they feed on plants that produce cardenolides, a class of steroid-like cardiotoxins that are a natural defense for plants such as milkweed and dogbane.
Though separated by 300 million years of evolution, these diverse insects—which include beetles, butterflies, and aphids—experienced changes to a key protein called sodium-potassium adenosine triphosphatase, or the sodium-potassium pump, which regulates a cell’s crucial sodium-to-potassium ratio.