New research has uncovered a snapshot of evolution in progress, by tracing how a gene mutation over 100 million years ago led flowers to make male and female parts in different ways.In a number of plants, the gene involved in making male and female organs has duplicated to create two, very similar, copies. In rockcress (Arabidopsis), one copy still makes male and female parts, but the other copy has taken on a completely new role: it makes seed pods shatter open. In snapdragons (Antirrhinum), both genes are still linked to sex organs, but one copy makes mainly female parts, while still retaining a small role in male organs – but the other copy can only make male.
"Snapdragons are on the cusp of splitting the job of making male and female organs between these two genes, a key moment in the evolutionary process," says Brendan Davies.
By tracing back through the evolutionary 'tree' for flowering plants, the researchers calculate the gene duplication took place around 120 million years ago. But the mutation which separates how snapdragons and rock cress use this extra gene happened around 20 million years later.
"Our research is an excellent example of how a chance imperfection sparks evolutionary change. If we lived in a perfect world, it would be a much less interesting one, with no diversity and no chance for new species to develop." link