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Fred Janzen, Zoology and Genetics, (515) 294-4230
Bridget Bailey, News Service, (515) 294- 6881


AMES, Iowa --A three-year $315,000 grant from the National Science Foundation has been awarded to Fred Janzen, an Iowa State University associate professor of zoology and genetics, to study a major new area in the field of evolutionary ecology.

Janzen will evaluate the biological importance of indirect genetic effects, like the maternal act of milk giving, on ecological and evolutionary processes.

Explaining biodiversity is the basic mission of ecology and evolutionary biology. Janzen said the relationship between genetic and environmental factors has traditionally provided the focus for fundamental biological research.

However, indirect genetic effects also could play a large role in key ecological and evolutionary processes, Janzen said. For instance, the importance of maternal effects in natural populations of long-lived organisms is not known.

Unusual sex-determining mechanisms in some animals, such as environmental temperatures determining the sex of an animal, show the importance of maternally derived effects on offspring, Janzen said. By understanding the ecology and evolution of this temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD), scientists may be able to understand basic physiological and behavioral processes in nature, and how sex ratio is involved in population dynamics.

Janzen said many species with TSD are endangered (sea turtles, Galapagos tortoises, many crocodiles). He said changing their habitat and climate likely would worsen their situation by dramatically altering nest and population sex ratios.

"The project will capitalize on prior research, and will integrate recent technical and theoretical advances to develop a model system for evaluating the relative biological importance of direct and indirect genetic effects," said Janzen who has been working in this area for 14 years. "We will focus on evaluating factors such as the distribution of sex hormones in egg yolks, and the genetics of nesting behavior that influence offspring sex ratio in painted turtles with TSD."


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