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The unexpected discovery of a new type of genetic variation suggests that natural selection – the force that drives evolution – is both more powerful and more complex than scientists have thought.

“We have discovered that natural selection can act not only on whole organisms and individual genes, but also on gene networks,” says Antonis Rokas, assistant professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt University and senior author of the paper reporting the discovery published online on Feb. 17 in the journal Nature.

This finding may help explain how some organisms, including bacterial pathogens, maintain high levels of diversity and adapt rapidly to new stresses.

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