DNA Mechanism That Prevents Two Species From Reproducing Discovered

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When two populations of a species become geographically isolated from each other, their genes
diverge from one another over time.

Cornell researchers have discovered a genetic mechanism in fruit flies that prevents two closely related species from reproducing, a finding that offers clues to how species evolve.
Eventually, when a male from one group mates with a female from the other group, the offspring will die or be born sterile, as crosses between horses and donkeys produce sterile mules. At this point, they have become two distinct species.
Now, Cornell researchers report in the October issue of Public Library of Science Biology (Vol. 7, No. 10) that rapidly evolving “junk” DNA may create incompatibilities between two related species, preventing them from reproducing. In this case, the researchers studied crosses between closely related fruit flies, Drosophila melanogaster and D. simulans. Nearly 100 years ago, scientists discovered that when male D. melanogasters mate with female D. simulans, normal males survive, but the female embryos die.
“It has remained an unsolved problem,” said Patrick Ferree, the paper’s lead author and a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of co-author Daniel Barbash, an assistant professor of molecular biology and genetics. “The question is, what are the elements that are killing these female hybrids and how are they doing that?”
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