Understanding Gene Flow may be crucial to our future

on Thursday, March 31, 2011

Migration is one important factor affecting the genetics of a given population. Migration of one species to a genetically different population allows for gene flow between the two species. Gene Flow is different than Natural Selection and Genetic Drift. Genetic drift can lead to the existence of completely separate subpopulations (genetically). Migration and gene flow can oppose these effects because it tends to make sub-populations more homogeneous. So basically, gene flow does not increase the genetic variability between the migrating and receiving populations, it does the opposite. Gene flow makes two populations more similar. So why is this important for a biologist to know?
   Gene flow is a concern for many of us, whether we know it or not.  Many scientists have been working to better understand gene flow from genetically modified plants to the environment. Genetically modified food may have a negative impact on humans as well as the environment. Environmental concerns include; use of pesticides, pesticide resistance, gene transfer to non-target species, and harm to other organisms. For example, pollen from genetically modified corn was found to increase mortality rates in Monarch Butterflies (from a nature article (1999) cited in hyper-linked article).
   Understanding gene flow is not only important in the food industry, but also to the conservation of many different species. For instance, Scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences found that understanding how environment affects gene flow can be important to conserving Giant Pandas. Fuwen Wei said "These results suggest that gene flow will be enhanced if the connectivity between the currently fragmented bamboo forests is increased. This may be of importance to conservation efforts as gene flow is one of the most important factors for maintaining genetic diversity within a species and counteracting the negative effects of habitat fragmentation."
   So as you can see, understanding gene flow and it's consequences is important for any scientist, especially those dealing with conservation and environmental issues. However, I feel that in our time, every person, whether knowledgeable about science or not, could benefit from understanding gene flow because genetic experimentation is very popular and influences many people.


Mason Posner said...

Wouldn't habitat fragmentation increase genetic diversity by isolating panda populations, allowing each to drift genetically in its own way?

Gene flow has been a hot topic in marine biology where ocean currents would seem to mix eggs and larvae over large distances. How reproductive isolation can occur in the face of ocean mixing is quite interesting.

Patrick Schnieders said...

Great post; it was very informative.

I remember reading somewhere that some tiger populations are also in trouble because there is not enough genetic drift between them.
It was either that or that the number left in the only population is so low that there is not enough genetic drift happening. (This would lead to all individuals being so similar that any major adverse change in their environment would wipe them all out rather than selecting a few.)

Now I'll have to go look that up again so I can sleep tonight. (Yes, this kind of thing really will bother me that much.)

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