Scientists have discovered a number of nematode species that can develop five different mouths – depending on their environment – without changing their genetic code, according to a new study.
A team of researchers found the new species of nematode on La Réunion, an insular region of France located in the Indian Ocean. Each of them is able to change their physical forms.
Dr. Ralf Sommer, author of the study and a biologist specializing in evolutionary developmental biology at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, said that seeing five different morphs within one species was very surprising.
In the new study – published Friday (Jan. 15) in the journal Science Advances – the researchers discovered seven nematodes which include: Pristionchus sycomori, Pristionchus borbonicus, and Pristionchus racemosae.
When they are larvae, Pristionchus are carried to individual figs by pollinator wasps. The figs turn into micro-ecosystems in which the nematodes feed and mature.
The researchers noticed that each of the Pristionchus had a remarkable feature: the ability to have five different physical forms or “morphs.” There was little to no overlap between the morphs, according to Dr. Sommer and his colleagues.
The phenotype of an organism represents the observable characteristics or traits, such as colour, skin texture, hair, etc. All of these characteristics correspond to the genotype, the part of the genetic makeup of a cell which determines a specific trait of that cell/organism/individual.
More often than not, a gene will code for only one trait. However, there are other cases in which the same genotype leads to completely different phenotypes. For instance, that can be seen with queen bees and worker bees. Their differences do not stem from their genes, but rather from their larval feeding – the phenomenon is called polyphenism. (note: polyphenic trait – a trait in which multiple phenotypes arise from one genotype due to differing environmental conditions)
Using molecular phylogenetic analysis, the research team determined that even though the worms all had different mouths, they actually belonged to the same species. The genotype corresponding to the structure of the mouth was the same in each worm, according to the researchers.
Dr. Sommer suggested that based on their fig ecosystems, the nematodes developed different physical characteristics. Right after they arrive in the fig fruit, Pristionchus nematodes feed on bacteria and yeast. Later on, they begin feeding on other nematode species in the fig, which gives Pristionchus their specific morphological features, Sommer explained.
Image Source: idw-online
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