Researchers find genomic evidence of rapid adaptation of invasive Burmese pythons in Florida

phys.org | 10/20/2018 | Staff
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Florida has become a haven for invasive species in the United States, but perhaps the most well-known of the State's alien residents is the Burmese python. These giant snakes, native to Southeast Asia, have become well-established over the past few decades and even flourish in their new environment.

"In Burmese pythons, we observed the rapid establishment and expansion of an invasive population in Florida, which is quite ecologically distinct from Southeast Asia and likely imposes significant ecological selection on the invasive Burmese python population," said Todd Castoe, biology professor at the University of Texas at Arlington and director of the Castoe Lab. "This situation had all of the hallmarks of a system where rapid adaptation could occur, so we were excited to test for this possibility using cutting-edge genomic approaches."

Researchers - Pythons - Florida - Freeze - Event

The researchers originally set out to determine whether pythons could have adapted to an extreme Florida freeze event in 2010. They generated data for dozens of samples before and after the freeze event. By scanning regions of the Burmese python genome, they identified parts of the genome that changed significantly between the two time periods, providing clear evidence of evolution occurring over a very short time scale in this population.

"The 2010 Florida freeze event led to a 40 percent to 90 percent documented field mortality in invasive Burmese pythons, so if evolution and adaptation were to be occurring, we knew we should see it over this time period that imposed a very strong bottleneck of selection," Castoe said.

Technique - Scan - Regions - Genome - Selection

"We employed a technique commonly referred to as a genome scan, which identifies regions of the genome that appear to be under strong natural selection, which could contain genes important in adaptation that may have allowed a subset of this population to survive these freeze events," he added.

The researchers expected to find genes in these...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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