Genetic evolution is usually seen as a slow process, happening over multiple generations. A study published in June, however, indicated that some populations can adapt within days of a temperature shift, reconfiguring the species genome.
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Scientists in Northern Spain began by tracking populations of Drosophila subobscura, a species of fruit fly. The scientists observed “chromosomal inversions” or reversible changes in the frequency of genetic mutations in the flies – essentially, parts of the fruit flies’ genome were getting flipped around as the weather changed from hot to cold.
A heat wave in April of 2011 caught many flies with their ‘winter genome’ still active, but after the temperature spiked, genomes quickly switched to ‘summer’ months ahead of schedule.
The mechanism behind the genetic changes are still unclear, but Evolutionary biologist and lead author of the study Francisco Rodriguez-Trelles noted a possible clue: Flies carrying ‘summer’ genome earlier produced five times more offspring then they would have in an ordinary year.
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