A research team from the University of Zurich (UZC) has shown that a
affect an entire ecosystem and the discovery of the "key gene" could
change the current strategies of biological diversityconservation.
The UZH researchers and their colleagues from the University of
California report that a mutation in a single gene dramatically changes
the structure and function of an ecosystem. Thus, a gene does not only
contain information critical to the fitness of an organism but can also
affect the persistence of interacting species in an ecological
community. The discovery of UZH Professor Jordi Bascompte and his team
was based on an experimental ecosystem in the laboratory with a predator
(parasitic wasp), two herbivores (aphids), and the plant/Arabidopsis
thaliana/, a genetic model organism.
The scientists tested the action of three genes controlling the plant's
arsenal of chemical defenses against feeding insects. They found that
the herbivores and predators in their experimental community were more
likely to survive on plants with a mutation in a single gene called
AOP2. The scientists found that the natural mutation in the AOP2 gene
not only affected the chemistry of the plant but also made it grow
faster, which encouraged the coexistence of herbivores and predators and
thus prevented the collapse of the ecosystem. AOP2 acts as a "key gene"
essential for the survival of the experimental ecosystem.
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