DNA Damage, Genome Stability, and Adaptation: A Question of Chance or Necessity?

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DNA damage causes the mutations that are the principal source of genetic variation. DNA damage detection and repair mechanisms therefore play a determining role in generating the genetic diversity on which natural selection acts. Speciation, it is commonly assumed, occurs at a rate set by the level of standing allelic diversity in a population. The process of speciation is driven by a combination of two evolutionary forces: genetic drift and ecological selection. Genetic drift takes place under the conditions of relaxed selection, and results in a balance between the rates of mutation and the rates of genetic substitution. These two processes, drift and selection, are necessarily mediated by a variety of mechanisms guaranteeing genome stability in any given species. One of the outstanding questions in evolutionary biology concerns the origin of the widely varying phylogenetic distribution of biodiversity across the Tree of Life and how the forces of drift and selection contribute to shaping that distribution. The following examines some of the molecular mechanisms underlying genome stability and the adaptive radiations that are associated with biodiversity and the widely varying species richness and evenness in the different eukaryotic lineages.

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