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Evolutionary change in Darwin's tomatoes

Evolutionary change in Darwin's tomatoes

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Published by Steve Matheson
Blog post from May 2008, which was subsequently anthologized in The Open Laboratory 2008.

Finches, bah! What about Darwin's tomatoes? by Stephen F. Matheson

Charles Darwin collected all sorts of cool stuff (like a vampire bat, caught while feeding on his horse) on his journey aboard the Beagle, and it has to be said that he understood little of it until after he got back. The finches that bear his name were identified as such by someone else, and ...
Blog post from May 2008, which was subsequently anthologized in The Open Laboratory 2008.

Finches, bah! What about Darwin's tomatoes? by Stephen F. Matheson

Charles Darwin collected all sorts of cool stuff (like a vampire bat, caught while feeding on his horse) on his journey aboard the Beagle, and it has to be said that he understood little of it until after he got back. The finches that bear his name were identified as such by someone else, and ...

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Categories:Types, Research, Science
Published by: Steve Matheson on May 22, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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06/11/2011

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Finches, bah! What about Darwin's tomatoes?
 by Stephen F. MathesonOriginally published on Quintessence of Dust,May 2008.  Also published in 
.Charles Darwin collected all sorts of cool stuff (like a vampire bat, caught while feeding on hishorse) on his journey aboard the
 Beagle
, and it has to be said that he understood little of it untilafter he got back.The finches that bear his name were identified as such by someone else, and hisown bird collections from the Galapagos were nearly worthless due to the fact that he hadn't bothered to label specimens as to their place of origin. It was only upon their correct identificationas different species of finch that Darwin realized that the birds represented what we now call anadaptive radiation.Darwin collected a lot of plant material, too, and much of it was completely new to science.J.D.Hooker was a botanist and contemporary of Darwin, and in 1851 he wrote a little paper, " AnEnumeration of the Plants of the Galapagos Archipelago; with Descriptions of those which are new "describing his studies of Darwin's collection. It was more than 100 pages long.One unique feature of the collection was a pair of species of tomato plant. Like all other species inthe archipelago, the Galapagean tomatoes resemble South American species, but are subtly different. More interestingly, the two Galapagean species are highly similar to each other (andreproductively compatible), but occupy separate habitats and exhibit some odd variations,including a striking divergence in leaf shape.
 
Image from Figure 1 of  Kimura et al., cited below. On the left is
 S. cheesmaniae
; on the right is
 S. galapagense
.Used by permission.How might such a variation arise in evolution? A nice study published in
 in May 2008 provides the interesting answer, and addresses an important question raised by evo-devotheorists. The article is "Natural Variation in Leaf Morphology Results from Mutation of a Novel
 KNOX 
Gene," by Seisuke Kimura and colleagues at UC Davis.Look again at the picture: the leaves pictured on the left are "normal" tomato leaves, as one mightsee in a Michigan garden or on the South American plants thought to be the ancestors of theGalapagean species. The leaves on the right are significantly more complex. (For lovers of botanicaldetail,the "normal" leaves are unipinnately compound, while the
 S. galapagense
leaves are three-
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