News FocusEvolutionary Biology

How Beach Life Favors Blond Mice

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Science  11 Sep 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5946, pp. 1330-1333
DOI: 10.1126/science.325_1330

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Harvard University evolutionary biologist Hopi Hoekstra and her team are part of a genomics explosion in natural history studies. Six years ago, Hoekstra started a project to figure out the genetic changes that underlie the adaptations beach mice make to the world around them. Biologists have long marveled at how oldfield mice living on beaches are much paler than those living inland, and Hoekstra is searching for pigment genes responsible for the color variation. She's combining molecular, developmental, genetic, and ecological approaches, including putting thousands of clay decoys on beaches to test the effects of coat color on predation risk and mapping genes and testing pigment protein function in cell cultures.