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Bacteria can drive the evolution of new species

Thanks to Mark for the link

Symbiotic organisms influence fruitfly mate choice.

Bacteria that live on the fruitfly Drosophila melanogaster can affect their host's choice of mate by altering the fly's pheromones, a new study suggests. That change in mate choice could in turn lead to the evolution of new fly species — suggesting that bacteria can indirectly change the species of their hosts.

When microbiologist Gil Sharon, at Tel-Aviv University in Israel, and his colleagues raised some fruitflies on molasses and others on starch, they expected — on the basis of previous studies — that the flies would mate preferentially with partners raised on the same diet, and the flies did. However, why the flies showed a preference for mates that shared the same diet was unknown.

Eugene Rosenberg, also a microbiologist at Tel-Aviv University and part of the team that worked on the study, suspected that a change in diet acts on symbiotic bacteria living on the flies, rather than directly on the flies themselves. "This adds weight to the idea that bacteria have an important role in the evolution of animals and plants," he says.

The findings, published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, are consistent with 'hologenome' theory — first proposed by Rosenberg and his wife, fellow evolutionary biologist Ilana Zilber-Rosenberg, in 20082. The theory suggests that natural selection, which drives evolution, acts on a host and its symbiotic partners as a single unit rather than on each species in isolation.

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