Thursday, August 21, 2008

Not archaeology but cool Manes, Trains and Antlers Explained
In his struggle to explain why such extravagant and seemingly burdensome features existed, the great English naturalist struck upon the idea of sexual selection -- that showy traits such as the Peacock’s ornamentation were an advantage in the mating game that outweighed other disadvantages.

A team of Wisconsin scientists has turned from the question of why such male traits exist to precisely how they evolved. They have worked out the molecular details of how a simple genetic switch controls decorative traits in male fruit flies and how that switch evolved. By extension, the work explains the mechanics of how the male lion got his mane, how the bull moose acquired such an impressive set of antlers and, yes, how the peacock got its magnificent tail.

Writing in the latest edition (Aug. 22, 2008) of the journal Cell, a team led by University of Wisconsin-Madison molecular biologist Sean Carroll describes the regulation and evolution of a genetic circuit in fruit flies that permits the male to decorate its abdomen. The work also shows how the regulation of the same genetic circuit in females represses such ornamentation.