How to Make a New Species

Scientists mutate a mating pheromone and its corresponding receptor in yeast to promote speciation.

By Ruth Williams | July 1, 2015

© GEORGE RETSECK; SCANS: PNAS, 112:4405-10, 2015

The emergence of one species from another occurs when the two groups can no longer interbreed. Such reproductive isolation is considered a key evolutionary process, and yet our knowledge of the mechanisms and mutations by which it actually occurs has been confined to conjecture. “We can speculate on the history of evolution from various observations,” says Masayuki Yamamoto, director general of the National Institute for Basic Biology in Okazaki, Japan. “However, it is virtually impossible to reproduce it experimentally.”

Virtually, but not entirely, impossible, it seems. Chikashi Shimoda’s team at Osaka City University in Japan has achieved experimental speciation in the yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe.

The two sexes of S. pombe—M and P, for “minus” and “plus”—each secrete a pheromone (M factor and P factor), which binds to a corresponding receptor on cells of the opposite sex. This interaction is essential for successful mating. Shimoda’s team had previously made mutants of the M-factor gene, mfm1, which prevented M cells from mating with wild-type P cells. Now, the team has randomly mutated the gene for the M-factor receptor, map3, in P cells to produce individuals with which the mfm1 mutants can once again reproduce. In total, they’ve created four mfm1/map3 mutant pairs that can reproduce with each other but not with their wild-type forebears.

“Although their observation may not reflect the real natural history, it supports the concept that changes in the mechanism to select mating partners can be an initial step for speciation,” says Yamamoto, who did not participate in the research.

Pheromone-receptor interactions that drive reproduction have been studied in a variety of life-forms, particularly amphibians and insects, says Shimoda. He therefore suggests pheromone mutagenesis might allow researchers to “extend our achievement to other organisms.” (PNAS, 112:4405-10, 2015)

Transgenic synthetic speciation (PLOS ONE, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0039054, 2012) Drosophila melanogaster Smaller eyes; different wing veination pattern Mutate five genetic sites to produce flies that can successfully reproduce with each other, but produce nonviable offspring when mated with wild-type flies. Yes, any organism amenable to transgenesis
Pheromone/receptor mutations Schizosaccharomyces pombe No obvious differences Mutate mating pheromone and receptor genes to cause reproductive isolation. Possibly others that use ligand-receptor interactions for reproduction


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Avatar of: James V. Kohl

James V. Kohl

Posts: 532

July 13, 2015

Journal article excerpt:

This is the first report, to our knowledge, of the artificial creation of a new species of any living organism in the history of evolutional research.

What about the reports on The Man Who Bottled Evolution?

Clearly there must be some confusion about what is required to link ecological variation to ecological adaptation in the context of the biophysically constrained chemistry of RNA-mediated protein folding.

It's not just nutrients; it's not just pheromones. It cannot be mutations that cause changes in pheromones unless those mutations, which perturb protein folding, are fixed in the organized genome of the species that "emerged" via evolution.

I think that's why some researchers are Combating Evolution to Fight Disease. Perhaps they are concerned that virus-driven genomic entropy will lead to the death of us all.

Avatar of: JonRichfield


Posts: 139

July 13, 2015

Decades ago (1980s) I proposed a mechanism in which the sexual matching mechanisms in both genders were determined by the same DNA sequences (mainly in insects). The implication was that changes in a single sequence could produce new, mutually fertile individuals. If anyone is sufficiently interested, I could probably find the text somewhere still. You could email me at
This separate-gendered mechanism in yeasts would work in microbes, but not in most metazoa and metaphyta.


Avatar of: James V. Kohl

James V. Kohl

Posts: 532

Replied to a comment from JonRichfield made on July 13, 2015

July 13, 2015

Thanks JonRichfield.

Our 1996 Hormones and Behavior reveiw linked the conserved molecular epigenetics of RNA-mediated cell type differentition in species from yeasts to mammals via their pheromone-controlled physiology of nutrient-dependent reproduction. From Fertilization to Adult Sexual Behavior

Elekonich and Robinson (2000) linked it to insects in Organizational and activational effects of hormones on insect behavior.

I was taught to start with gene activation, not DNA sequences. I suspect that nutrient-dependent epigenetic effects on RNA-mediated gene duplication and RNA-mediated amino acid substitutions is the best fit for what happens via the biophysically constrained chemistry of protein folding in all living genera.


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