Scientists have long search for the "hybrid inviability gene" -- and they think they may have found it.
Researchers at the University of Utah have just made an important discovery that could shed light on evolutionary processes.
The scientists were able to find the “hybrid inviability gene,” which is believe to result in dead or infertile offspring after fruit flies mate — a discovery that could help scientists understand the genetic and molecular processes that results in new species formation and could lead to breakthroughs in cancer treatment, according to a Phys.org report.
While scientists had known for decades that such a gene must exist, it had proved elusive. But with a new approach, they were able to discover it.
By understanding speciation, scientists are able to understand how barriers to reproduction evolved. This is the definition of a new species: when it cannot breed with another. By identifying the genes responsible for this, scientists are able to find out how a new species evolves and answer a major question in Darwinism.
The gene, named gfzf, is essentially a cell cycle-checkpoint gene, which scientists normally think of as important in preventing cell division when defects are detected. It is a quickly evolving gene, compared to most cell cycle-checkpoint genes that evolve pretty slowly because they are essential to organisms and must be preserved.
The discovery that gfzf results in death or infertility in fruit fly hybrids is tremendously important in cancer research because cancer biologists look closely at cell cycle checkpoints, as these checkpoints can result in cancer when they start to go bad. By understanding the mechanics behind these genes, they could develop new treatments to combat cancer.
The study involved the fruit flies Drosophila melanogaster and Drosophila simulans, species that have been around for about two million years. Geneticists have been searching for inviability genes in fruit flies since all the way back in 1910 when dead hybrids were first discovered.