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What drives evolution?

Media release
7 October 2008

What drives evolution?

Research looking at Antarctic penguins suggests that genetic evolution is not necessarily reflected in an animal’s physical appearance.

A study by scientists at The University of Auckland looked at the changes in genes between Adelie penguins over 37,000 years, comparing DNA extracted from ancient bones to DNA from living penguins. The research found that while genetic mutation and evolution had occurred at a faster rate than predicted, the penguins had changed very little morphologically over the same period.

“The Antarctic is the ideal place to study evolution, due to ancient remains being preserved in the cold, dry environment with little disturbance,” says Dr Craig Millar of the School of Biological Sciences. “Genetic changes allow us to track the evolutionary relationships between species, but in the case of Adelie penguins we have found that genetic change is not necessarily equal to morphological change.”

The research, conducted by scientists at The University of Auckland, Victoria University Wellington, Massey University and Griffin University (Queensland), is published in the journal PLoS Genetics. The four year study was funded by the Marsden Fund and the Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution.


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