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Experimental evolution, loss-of-function mutations, and “the first rule of adaptive evolution”

Michael J. Behe
The Quarterly Review of Biology
Vol. 85, No. 4 (December 2010), pp. 419-445
DOI: 10.1086/656902
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/656902
Page Count: 27
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Experimental evolution, loss-of-function mutations,
and “the first rule of adaptive evolution”
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Abstract

ABSTRACT Adaptive evolution can cause a species to gain, lose, or modify a function; therefore, it is of basic interest to determine whether any of these modes dominates the evolutionary process under particular circumstances. Because mutation occurs at the molecular level, it is necessary to examine the molecular changes produced by the underlying mutation in order to assess whether a given adaptation is best considered as a gain, loss, or modification of function. Although that was once impossible, the advance of molecular biology in the past half century has made it feasible. In this paper, I review molecular changes underlying some adaptations, with a particular emphasis on evolutionary experiments with microbes conducted over the past four decades. I show that by far the most common adaptive changes seen in those examples are due to the loss or modification of a pre-existing molecular function, and I discuss the possible reasons for the prominence of such mutations.

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