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Thread: Change one gene get a whole new functional eye, so much for design requirements.

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    Change one gene get a whole new functional eye, so much for design requirements.

    Using a simple genetic tool, IU scientists have intentionally grown a fully functional extra eye in the center of the forehead of the common beetle. Unraveling the biological mechanisms behind this occurrence could help researchers understand how evolution draws upon pre-existing developmental and genetic "building blocks" to create novel complex traits, or "old" traits in novel places.
    The study's results appear in the journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The work also provides deeper insights into an earlier experiment that accidentally produced an extra eye as part of a study to understand how the insect head develops.
    "Developmental biology is beautifully complex in part because there's no single gene for an eye, a brain, a butterfly's wing or a turtle's shell," said Armin P. Moczek, a professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Biology. "Instead, thousands of individual genes and dozens of developmental processes come together to enable the formation of each of these traits.
    "We've also learned that evolving a novel physical trait is much like building a novel structure out of Legos, by re-using and recombining 'old' genes and developmental processes within new contexts."


    To create a fully functional eye in the center of a beetle's head, Moczek's team deactivated a single gene called orthodenticle, or odt, which their research has previously shown to play a role in instructing the formation of the head during development.
    "This study experimentally disrupts the function of a single, major gene," Moczek said. "And, in response to this disruption, the remainder of head development reorganizes itself to produce a highly complex trait in a new place: a compound eye in the middle of the head.

    The new IU-led study reports on the formation of an extra functional eye -- technically, a "fusion" of two sets of extra eyes -- following the knockdown of a single gene, a technique widely available to scientists in most organisms. The unexpected formation of a complex, functional eye in a novel location in the process is "a remarkable example of the ability of developmental systems to channel massive perturbations toward orderly and functional outcomes," Moczek said.

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