Here's some very cool news: scientists have directly observed the evolution of a complex, polygenic, polyphenic trait by genetic assimilation and accommodation in the laboratory. This is important, because it is simultaneously yet another demonstration of the fact of evolution, and an exploration of mechanisms of evolution—showing that evolution is more sophisticated than changes in the coding sequences of individual genes spreading through a population, but is also a consequence of the accumulation of masked variation, synergistic interactions between different alleles and the environment, and perhaps most importantly, changes in gene regulation.
Unfortunately, it's also an example of some extremely rarefied terminology that is very precisely used in genetic and developmental labs everywhere, but probably makes most people's eyes glaze over and wonder what the fuss is all about. I'll try to give a simple introduction to those peculiar words, and explain why the evolution of a polyphenic pigment pattern in a caterpillar is a fascinating and significant result.
Continue reading "Evolution of a polyphenism" (on Pharyngula)