Evolution is an often surprisingly fast process that results in new adaptations, but also is the mechanism for the origin of novel species. Genetic variation and the resulting changes in an organism’s characteristics are the raw material for selection to act on, which might allow for the evolution of adaptations in response to changing environments.
My study organisms are cichlid fish, a famous textbook example of exuberant diversity and record-breaking rates at which new species arise, chosen as a means for understanding the molecular mechanisms that drive phenotypic diversity. In particular, I study how changes in the regulation of gene expression are used to drive the evolution of phenotypically diverse traits, such as color patterns. There is accumulating evidence that especially the regulation of how, when and where genes are expressed plays a pivotal part in the process of diversification. Instead of redesigning its components, evolution “tinkers” with the existing bits. By conducting a more comprehensive study across cichlid species, I aim to better understand how “evolutionary tinkering” within gene regulation contributes to the molecular underpinnings of the diversification that Charles Darwin already talked about in the “Origin of Species”: “From so simple a beginning, endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved”.
(COPYRIGHT CLAUDIUS KRATOCHWIL 2017)