Epigenetics and Evolution
In his new project with the intriguing title "Lamarck deserves a second chance: A new path of molecular (r)evolution?", PD Dr. Elvir Becirovic, group leader at the Department of Pharmacology for Natural Sciences, is working on chemical changes in the genetic material, so-called epigenetic modifications. Unlike the actual genetic code - the DNA sequence - these epigenetic modifications are influenced by the environment and change in the course of life. In certain cases, they can also be passed on to the offspring. However, according to current knowledge, the inherited epigenetic information disappears again after a few generations. For this reason, scientists have so far assumed that epigenetics do not influence evolutionary processes.
Elvir Becirovic challenges this assumption and postulates that the information gained through epigenetic changes could possibly be preserved in an indirect way, in that epigenetically modified genes could be more susceptible to spontaneous mutations. This, in turn, could result in a directional acceleration of evolution over generations. This hypothesis will first be tested in vitro and then evaluated in mice. "If my hypothesis is confirmed, it will certainly have far-reaching implications for our fundamental understanding of the molecular processes that drive evolution." Becirovic says.
The project is supported by the Volkswagen Foundation with 120,000 euros for 18 months as part of the "Experiment!" funding initiative. The initiative is aimed at researchers from the natural, engineering and life sciences (including directly related disciplines from the behavioral sciences) who want to pursue a radically new and risky research idea.