Fertile Hybrids

PEPS prof inks an op-ed in Scientific American

  • 17 August 2022
  • Author: Mark Berthold
  • Number of views: 547
Fertile Hybrids

Hybridization between animal species is traditionally thought to be a rare event in nature, and generally results in sterile offspring (e.g., horse + donkey = mule).

But in the latest edition of the journal Scientific American, Dan Rubinoff of the Dept. of Plant and Environmental Protection Sciences argues that hybridization might occur more often – with more potential benefits – than we previously realized.

“Originally, we thought it was very rare and an evolutionary dead end, with reproductive barriers between species,” says Dan. “However, a wide range of new genomics research is showing that hybridization between species is a very common event.”

It is precisely this behavior that has enabled different species to exchange beneficial genes. For example, our own human genome shows hybridization with both Neanderthals and Denisovans, so even for us modern-day folks, hybridization is part of our evolutionary history. More important, it gave humans some important advantages for dealing with cold, dark places, like Eurasia.

And with the impending global disasters ahead due to climate change, there’s a small bright spot, in that hybridization might allow some species to more quickly adapt.

“Global warming and habitat destruction are devastating biodiversity,” Dan says. “Climate change is an absolute disaster and many species are going to disappear as a result, but hybridization along with habitat preservation might give at least a few of them a better chance at surviving. But only if we give species enough habitat to maintain their populations and come into contact with each other.”

Read the full article, Here’s How Some Species Will Survive Climate Change.

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