The University of Dayton has netted funding from the National Science Foundation for research into genetic networks, particularly studies of how they interact, evolve, and affect evolution.
The $450,000 grant will fund research that focuses on differences in abdominal pigmentation between male and female fruit flies of different species, with the aim of deciphering how evolution affected the same sets of genes differently to create diversity.
“From an evolutionary perspective, networks of genes have been cobbled together, sort of haphazardly,” University of Dayton Associate Professor Thomas Williams, who is leading the study, said in a statement. “New connections are formed, existing connections are lost. The goal is to tease apart how genes communicate within these networks to understand which connections matter.”
The findings from this and other such studies could have implications for gene-related studies focused on cardiac risk, developmental disorders, and a wide range of other conditions and diseases.
Williams pointed out that the traditional view was that traits develop along a linear pathway of genes. “But when you consider that male traits can differ not only in type but also in where and when they develop, you find pathways are insufficient to explain these profound differences,” he said.
“Researchers are only recently exploring traits not as the result of pathways but as the result of larger networks — an assembly of multiple pathways working together.”
Last year Williams received a $132,000 grant from the American Heart Association for research on fruit flies studying how seemingly obscure changes in genetic code can lead to increased heart disease risk.