Understanding the role of genetic variation in evolution

25 June 2019

Plant & Food Research scientists have been looking at the little-studied role of structural genetic variations in New Zealand snapper (Chrysophrys auratus). 

Genetic variation is responsible for many of the differences between individual and species and is the backbone of evolution. However, the extent to which different mutational sources contribute to variation within species, and how much this affects natural selection, are fundamental questions in evolutionary genetics.

Until recently genomic information came from looking at model species, such as humans and mice, and suggested that point mutations, which are mutations affecting a single nucleotide (base pair) in a gene sequence, were an important source of genetic variation. 

However, thanks to advancements in DNA sequencing, scientists are now able to sequence entire genomes from nearly any species, allowing them to better understand the prevalence of large-scale structural variations in evolution. Recent studies employing these new sequencing techniques to look at human DNA suggest that a large proportion of variations in the genetic code are caused by structural variations involving many base pairs at once, rather than simple point mutations. Whether this holds for other species is largely unknown.

Scientists from Plant & Food Research, along with Professor Louis Bernatchez (University of Laval, Canada), analysed the structural genetic variants in New Zealand’s native snapper. This species is currently a focus of a Plant & Food-led breeding programme to diversify the New Zealand aquaculture sector. The scientists found that structural genetic variation in snapper affected three times more base pairs than simple point mutations. 

These insights further the understanding of the genetic variants that contribute to evolutionary change in this species and could inform future snapper breeding programmes. 

In collaboration with other global scientists, Plant & Food Research scientist Dr Maren Wellenreuther recently edited a Special Issue in Molecular Ecology on the role of genomic structural variants in adaptation and diversification. 

This project was funded through the MBIE research programme grant C11X1603 entitled Accelerated breeding for enhanced seafood production

 

Journal references: 

Catanach, A., C. Deng, D. Charles, L. Bernatchez and M. Wellenreuther (2019). The genomic pool of standing structural variation outnumbers single nucleotide polymorphism by more than three-fold in the marine teleost Chrysophrys auratus, Mol Ecol, DOI:10.1111/mec.15051

Wellenreuther, M., C. Mérot, E. Berdan and L. Bernatchez (2019). Going beyond SNPs: The role of structural genomic variants in adaptive evolution and species diversification, Mol Ecol, DOI: 10.1111/mec.15066

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