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Animals that care for young may have more mutations and evolve faster

An experiment in beetles shows that when parents care for their young, the population accumulates more mutations over time, but this may have benefits


30 January 2023

Burying beetle

Adult burying beetles sometimes look after their offspring

Andrew Newman Nature Pictures / Alamy Stock Photo

An evolution experiment involving beetles has provided the first direct evidence that caring for offspring results in the accumulation of more genetic mutations in a population.

Some of the mutations are likely to be harmful, but there is also a positive side, as having more variation may allow populations to adapt and evolve more quickly when circumstances change.

“You’re holding in a lot of deleterious stuff,” says Rahia Mashoodh at the University of Cambridge. “But also, you’re holding in potentially a lot …

Source link Animals that exhibit parental care, such as mating pairs that share the duties of caring for their offspring, may possess a higher rate of evolution than those that leave their young to fend for themselves. A recent study published in the journal Molecular Biology & Evolution shows that animals with parental care display a higher level of genetic diversity than their solitary counterparts, allowing them to adapt to changing environments faster.

The study, conducted by researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, found that the rate of genomic evolution in animals with parental care is at least twice that of their unsupervised counterparts. To reach this conclusion, the researchers analyzed the genomes of more than 10,000 animals across the animal kingdom, including mammals, birds, fish, dinosaurs, and amphibians.

Their analysis revealed that many of the species with parental care had undergone more extensive mutations than their solo counterparts. Furthermore, the team noted that this phenomenon was even more pronounced when the parental care was shared between both sexes, possibly indicating that it is the act of continuous supervision that encourages faster evolutionary diversification.

Lead author Juliane Brinkmann suggests that the results of their study could help explain why humans have evolved faster than our closest relatives, such as chimpanzees and gorillas. While humans are considered the only species that routinely engage in long-term, two-parent care, our ancestors may have developed such techniques far earlier than previously thought, allowing them to colonize a wide range of habitats.

This new research provided fascinating insights into how certain behaviors influence the rate of evolution. While the sample size from this study is relatively small, the results suggest that parental care could be a critical factor in the evolution of complex organisms.

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