A team comprising of evolutionary biologists from the University of Utah, University of Washington and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center seems to have solved a century-old evolutionary puzzle. The puzzle in question was surrounding a couple of fruit fly species arising from a single species of the insect.

The team of evolutionary biologists discovered a new gene in fruit flies, which according to the researchers is responsible for dividing one fruit fly species into two. To put it more bluntly, the gene appears to be the appropriate answer to the question that has been bothering scientists for more than a century.

Scientists have been guessing the existence of a mystifying gene since 1910, and when researchers are conducting this new study finally found the gene, they also came to know that both the fruit fly species only produce daughters, not sons. Here, we must remember that scientists have always said that one species cannot breed with another. Comprehending these obstacles in the process of reproduction would explain speciation.

The study is a collaborative effort of evolutionary biologist Dr. Hammit Malik, a member of Fred Hutch’s division of Basic Sciences, Mario R Capecchi of the University of Utah, and fly geneticist Dr. Nitin Phadnis, who also happens to be an assistant professor.

Malik and Phadnis first met each other at a session held for solving this century old evolutionary riddle. The discussion encouraged the researchers to plan mutating a fly species with the aim of randomly disrupting the mysterious gene and make the production of males possible.

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As the researchers were aware of the fact that the family of flies possesses several other mutations spread across genomes, they decided to find seven rare male flies (the scientists named them “the 7 samurai” after a popular classic movie) for decisively pinpointing the conundrum surrounding the gene’s identity.

The scientists estimated that the experiment would require around six months, which would involve steps like mutating, the mating of the insects and finally investigations by the experts. After this six month period, they found that not a single male fly was produced. However, after one year i.e. after mating around 55,000 pairs of mutant mother and father, the research team managed to produce six males. The number of daughters produced after one year, on the other hand, was a whopping 330,000.