Adaptable orchids use epigenetics, according to ScienceDaily, 10 Aug 2010 and Molecular Biology and Evolution, 2010; DOI: 10.1093/molbev/msq150.

Scientists at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’s Jodrell Laboratory are studying the effects of epigenetics in orchids to see how they may adapt to environmental changes. Epigenetics refers to changes in the way genes are expressed. These changes can be brought on by environmental influences and can enable plants of the same species to grow in different environments. The Royal Botanic Garden scientists are studying three recently formed ‘hybrid’ species of European marsh-orchids (Dactylorhiza). The plants are very similar in genetic heritage but “differ considerably in ecological requirements, morphology, physical characteristics and distribution.”

Epigenetic changes do not alter the DNA code of the genes, but the effects can be inherited. The researchers claim epigenetic changes could enable plants to evolve rapidly without having to wait for mutations to change the structure and function of the plants, as traditional evolutionary theory says. The researchers wrote: “Our results strongly suggest a need to expand our current evolutionary framework to encompass a complementary epigenetic dimension when seeking to understand population processes that drive phenotypic evolution and adaptation.”


Editorial Comment: Epigenetic changes do not change orchids into any other kind of plant, so there is no evolution involved. It is a form of adaptation that can only bring out the genetic potential that is already built in. In fact, epigenetics is a reminder of the brilliance of God’s design that has built in a number of different genetic states that enable plants to cope with a variety of changing environments. It also reminds us there is much for us to learn about how genes work and how they are regulated without any evolution occurring at all.

Evidence News 24 November 2010

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