Friday, July 18, 2014

On the Speed of Evolution: The New Science of Evolutionary Forecasting

Newly discovered patterns in evolution may help scientists make accurate short-term predictions.  Full article here~ http://www.simonsfoundation.org/quanta/20140717-the-new-science-of-evolutionary-forecasting 

Also, go back to a previous related blog post  http://cultureplaces.blogspot.com/2010/09/more-on-near-term-evolution.html






Doebeli’s bacteria echoed the evolution of lizards in the Caribbean. Each time the lizards arrived on an island, they diversified into many of the same forms, each with its own set of adaptations. Doebeli’s bacteria diversified as well — and did so in flask after flask....
To get a deeper understanding of this predictable evolution, Doebeli and his postdoctoral researcher, Matthew Herron, sequenced the genomes of some of the bacteria from these experiments. In three separate populations they discovered that the bacteria had evolved in remarkable parallel. In every case, many of the same genes had mutated....
The scientists found that it took only days for the bacteria to start evolving. Different lineages of E. coli picked up new mutations that made them reproduce faster than their ancestors. And again and again, they evolved many of the same traits. For example, the original E. coli couldn’t grow if it was exposed to a molecule called galactitol, which mammals make as they break down sugar. However, Gordo’s team found that as E. coli adapted to life inside a mouse, it always evolved the ability to withstand galactitol. The bacteria treated a living host like one of Lenski’s flasks — or an island in the Caribbean....


The flu isn’t the only disease that evolutionary forecasting could help combat. Bacteria are rapidly evolving resistance to antibiotics. If scientists can predict the path that the microbes will take, they may be able to come up with strategies for putting up roadblocks....
Forecasting could also be useful in fighting cancer. When cells turn cancerous, they undergo an evolution of their own. As cancer cells divide, they sometimes gain mutations that let them grow faster or escape the immune system’s notice. It may be possible to forecast how tumors will evolve and then plan treatments accordingly....
Beyond its practical value, Lässig sees a profound importance to being able to predict evolution. It will bring the science of evolutionary biology closer to other fields like physics and chemistry. Lässig doesn’t think that he’ll be able to forecast evolution as easily as he can the motion of the moon, but he hopes that there’s much about evolution that will prove to be predictable. “There’s going to be a boundary, but we don’t know where the boundary is,” he said.

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