Thursday, June 14, 2007

The genetic nuts and bolts of sexual selection (no pun intended)

this is pretty cool:

Evolution of an avian pigmentation gene correlates with a measure of sexual selection

Nicola J. Nadeau, Terry Burke, Nicholas I. Mundy

Proc. Royal Society B v.274 August 07, 2007

Abstract The extravagant plumage traits of male birds are a favourite example of sexual selection. However, to date the units that selection is acting upon, the genes themselves have been a ‘black box’. Here, we report evidence of change driven by sexual selection at a pigmentation gene locus in the galliform birds. Across species, we find a correlation between the rate of amino acid change (dN/dS) at this locus (MC1R) and the degree of sexual dichromatism, which we use as a measure of the strength of sexual selection. There is no evidence for a similar pattern in any of five other loci (four candidate and one control locus). This is consistent with previous work on colour polymorphisms and suggests that MC1R may be a key target for selection acting on plumage colour. The pattern of selection at MC1R seems to be consistent with the continuous or cyclical evolution of traits and preferences that is the outcome of several Fisherian and good-genes models of sexual selection. In contrast, we found no support for models of sexual selection that predict an increase in purifying selection as a result of purging of deleterious mutations or for models that predict an increased rate of mutation in association with stronger sexual selection.

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