Mechanisms of Biological Evolution

Scientific theories of evolution seek to explain the mechanisms of the observable FACT of biological evolution. ▼ Mechanisms Index

Scientists observing biological evolution first sought to explain observed morphological changes over time – phenotypic evidence of changes in body structure found in the fossil record. Since the advent of modern molecular genetics, biological evolution has come to be understood as a change in genotype – a genetic alteration in the intergenerational frequency of alleles in populations.

However, morphologic changes may reflect alterations in the regulation of genetic expression without a major alteration in genotype – witness the considerable differences that selective breeding has wrought in size and configuration within one canine species. Similarly, the paramount importance of gene regulation probably explains much of the morphological difference between humans and chimps – two species who share 98% of their DNA. Recently, researchers have demonstrated that gene regulation has enabled rapid phenotypic speciation in sticklebacks. Along the same lines of modification of genetic expression, alternative splicing enables a single gene to give rise to multiple versions of a protein.

mutationallelepre-mRNA → constitutive pre-mRNA splicing and/or epigenetic alternative splicingproteinsintergenerational fate of allele

There are two basic types of mechanism involved in biological evolution. First are the genetic sources of alteration of a gene within the genotype of an individual. Second are those statistical mechanisms that determine the fate of an altered allele. These are the mechanisms that increase or decrease frequency of an allele (a form of a gene at a locus) within a population.

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