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The image below shows how a simple microbial system was used to study number (or genetic) fluctuations in range expansions of large populations. In this bacterial colony, chance effects segregate the gene pool into well-defined, sector-like regions of reduced genetic diversity. The domain walls radiating out from the center of the image follow a super-diffusive random walk, and annihilate when they meet.
These results are relevant to the field of population genetics, which is concerned with the genetic variation within populations. The neutral genetic patterns found in the experiment could be a widespread signature of continuous range expansions in populations exhibiting moderate rates of turnover and migration. The research results may thus facilitate the inference of the history of expansions of a species based on the observable genetic variation within the present-day population.
Oskar Hallatschek, David R. Nelson, and Sharad Ramanathan performed this research at Harvard University.