Molecular ecology

The important relationship between ecology and genetic inheritance predates modern techniques for molecular analysis. Molecular ecological research became more feasible with the development of rapid and accessible genetic technologies, such as the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The rise of molecular technologies and influx of research questions into this new ecological field resulted in the publication Molecular Ecology in 1992.[145] Molecular ecology uses various analytical techniques to study genes in an evolutionary and ecological context. In 1994, John Avise also played a leading role in this area of science with the publication of his book, Molecular Markers, Natural History and Evolution.[146] Newer technologies opened a wave of genetic analysis into organisms once difficult to study from an ecological or evolutionary standpoint, such as bacteria, fungi and nematodes. Molecular ecology engendered a new research paradigm for investigating ecological questions considered otherwise intractable. Molecular investigations revealed previously obscured details in the tiny intricacies of nature and improved resolution into probing questions about behavioural and biogeographical ecology.[146] For example, molecular ecology revealed promiscuous sexual behaviour and multiple male partners in tree swallows previously thought to be socially monogamous.[147] In a biogeographical context, the marriage between genetics, ecology and evolution resulted in a new sub-

iscipline called phylogeography. The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is a biochemical technology in molecular biology to amplify a single or a few copies of a piece of DNA across several orders of magnitude, generating thousands to millions of copies of a particular DNA sequence. Developed in 1983 by Kary Mullis,[1] PCR is now a common and often indispensable technique used in medical and biological research labs for a variety of applications.[2][3] These include DNA cloning for sequencing, DNA-based phylogeny, or functional analysis of genes; the diagnosis of hereditary diseases; the identification of genetic fingerprints (used in forensic sciences and paternity testing); and the detection and diagnosis of infectious diseases. In 1993, Mullis was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry along with Michael Smith for his work on PCR.[4] The method relies on thermal cycling, consisting of cycles of repeated heating and cooling of the reaction for DNA melting and enzymatic replication of the DNA. Primers (short DNA fragments) containing sequences complementary to the target region along with a DNA polymerase (after which the method is named) are key components to enable selective and repeated amplification. As PCR progresses, the DNA generated is itself used as a template for replication, setting in motion a chain reaction in which the DNA template is exponentially amplified. PCR can be extensively modified to perform a wide array of genetic manipulations.