Exploring the molecular underpinnings of convergent evolution

John Gould [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Similar phenotypic traits such as anatomical structures and physiological functions often evolve independently in different organisms. Nonetheless, the evolutionary paths leading to these convergent phenotypes were typically thought to be quite different. Many such phenotypes are quite complex, requiring coordination among many different genes, suggesting that their development likewise involved multiple evolutionary twists and turns. Scientists presumed that evolution would not travel the same way twice but more likely would find different genetic routes to the same destination. But growing evidence suggests that evolution may be tracing the same genetic steps more often than previously thought, as multiple studies have uncovered examples of convergent evolution at the molecular level, aided by the availability of modern molecular techniques. Recent reports have identified the gene- or protein-level similarities underlying the convergent evolution of features such as echolocation in bats and dolphins; venom in platypuses, shrews and lizards; and biosynthesis of defense compounds in moths and their food plants.

Lab Anim. (NY) 42, 405-406 (2013).
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