the microscopic island of dr. moreau?

Using genetic engineering, British researchers have converted one species of yeast into another. Stephen Oliver of the University of Manchester and his colleagues reported in the March 6 Nature that swapping chunks of genetic material can create different species. Oliver and his team rearranged the chromosomes of common baker’s yeast, also known as Saccharomyces cerevisiae, to be identical to the yeast Saccharomyces mikatae, and then left them to mate. Though closely related, the two species of yeast are normally unable to breed successfully. (In animals, plants, and fungi, the ability to interbreed and produce fertile offspring is part of what defines a species.) After the genetic manipulation, however, the two species were able to interbreed, and almost 30 percent of the offspring were fertile. Traditionally, scientists have studied how species develop by focusing on ecological or geographical influences, but these results show that naturally occurring chromosomal reshuffling could do the trick as well.

This news brief appeared in the Random Data column of the Boston Globe’s Health/Science section on 3/11/2003.
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