Predicting the basis of convergent evolution

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Science  21 Oct 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6310, pp. 289
DOI: 10.1126/science.aai7394

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Repeated evolution of similar traits in organisms facing the same ecological challenges has long captured the interest of evolutionary biologists (14). Naturally occurring examples of “convergent evolution” offer new opportunities to ask about predictability in evolution. Do complex genomes mean that there are endless possibilities for adapting to an ecological challenge? Or must evolution target the same genes, or even the same amino acids in the same proteins, in order to increase the fitness and therefore survival of different species facing similar challenges? Natarajan et al. (5), on page 336 of this issue, provide an example of an integrated approach to answer these questions. By using a combination of genetic data with experimental tests, they show that evolution of a new protein function in response to low-oxygen, high-altitude conditions can occur through different genetic mechanisms across a wide diversity of avian species living at high and low elevations.