An Alternative to Evolution: man made traits (Introduction)

by David Turell @, Tuesday, July 24, 2018, 04:51 (146 days ago) @ Balance_Maintained

David: An experiment in Australia has tried to induce an avoidance trait in newborn quolls:

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-05757-y?utm_source=briefing-dy&utm_mediu...

"The subject of the experiment is one of Australia’s most imperiled marsupials, the northern quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus). This squirrel-sized carnivore is struggling to survive a decades-long onslaught of poisonous and invasive cane toads, which quolls mistake as prey, with devastating results. The team now working on Indian Island has successfully tested the match-making technique in captive-bred quolls, and reported the results last month in Conservation Biology1.

***

"In the 80 years since agriculture officials introduced the cane toad (Rhinella marina) to northeastern Australia to control a sugar cane-devouring beetle, the amphibians have spread across the state of Queensland, the Northern Territory and large chunks of Western Australia. Their rapid advance has devastated northern-quoll populations, which have shrunk by more than 75%.

***

"Ecologists Ella Kelly and Ben Phillips knew from their previous research that some quoll populations in Queensland had developed an aversion to the toads over the years2. The researchers, both at the University of Melbourne, wondered whether the trait could be successfully bred into vulnerable quoll populations that cane toads hadn’t yet reached. That could make those 'naive' quolls more resilient to toad invasions, if enough animals in a given group have the trait.

"To test this idea, the scientists bred animals in captivity, mixing northern quolls from a toad-infested area of Queensland that displayed an aversion to toads with naive quolls from a toad-free island in the Northern Territory. Kelly and Phillips then exposed the resulting offspring to a toad leg to gauge whether the young quolls recognized the threat. They found that most of the young quolls wouldn’t touch the toad legs.

"The finding suggests that the trait is inherited, rather than taught by mother quolls, and may be dominant, the researchers say. “That’s the first hurdle that needs to be jumped in showing targeted gene flow,” Phillips says. “Without a genetic basis, there is no point in introducing [toad-smart quolls] into the population. And we found there is a genetic basis."

"The captive-quoll study is an important step towards demonstrating that targeted gene flow is a viable strategy to aid quoll conservation, says Sarah Fitzpatrick, a conservation biologist at Michigan State University’s Kellogg Biological Station in Hickory Corners. "Many behaviours are plastic, and therefore are not necessarily controlled by certain genes,” she says. “If this were the case for toad-eating behaviour, targeted gene flow would not work.”

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"They released 54 quolls on toad-infested Indian Island — a mix of naive Northern Territory quolls, toad-averse quolls from Queensland and hybrid offspring.

"When the researchers returned in April this year to check on the quolls, they found good and bad news. Far fewer quolls survived than the team had anticipated — just 16 animals, according to the researchers’ population estimate. But encouragingly, the group included offspring that seem to be toad-smart, which would suggest that they inherited the trait from their parents. The team is now analysing genetic samples taken from the survivors.

"Kelly and Phillips plan to return to the site again next April to see how the remaining quolls fare. “It will be a long wait,” they write in a draft report on the project."

David Comment: Time will tell if it works. A clever idea.


Tony: Indeed. Hard to determine if it was dumb luck, good genes, or something else entirely, though. I mean, 66% of their study group died. I'm not certain that constitutes evidence that their breeding strategy worked. It is also possible that:

1: The quolls that are not averse to toads have actually LOST or mutated deficient genes that hampers their ability to detect the danger, while the other population that is toad averse simply has DNA that is better preserved.

2: The genetic change is akin to eye color, in that it may be variable and skip generations. Though more likely related to olfactory genes, the same concept applies.

3: If evolution is dependent upon survival of the fittest and we keep interfering, are we setting something up for even bigger failure later?

Australia, being so isolated is an ecologic mess. The Brits introduced all sorts of problem species and the Aussies now are trying to solve the messes created. When I explaining my theories about the importance of the balance of nature I mentioned some of them.


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