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Evolvability, observed

The most successful E. coli strains in a long-term evolution experiment were those that showed the greatest potential for adaptation

Jef Akst
Jef Akst

Jef Akst is managing editor of The Scientist, where she started as an intern in 2009 after receiving a master’s degree from Indiana University in April 2009 studying the mating behavior of seahorses.

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Natural selection picks the most well adapted organisms to survive and reproduce. But what if the most beneficial mutations in the short term meant less room for adaptation in the future?
Petri dishes containing colonies of E. coli
Image: Brian Baer
New research suggests that the capacity of a species to further adapt to its environment, or evolvability, can be just as important, or more so, than the adaptations it's already acquired. The results, published this week in Science, give an empirical foundation to a theory that, in addition to beneficial mutations that confer immediate fitness advantages, long-term evolvability may be important for determining a species' success."[The idea of] selection for evolvability has been in the air for a long time, but this is one of the first real systematic and explicit demonstrations of this actually happening," said evolutionary biologist and population geneticist linkurl:Michael Desai;http://www.oeb.harvard.edu/faculty/desai/desai-oeb.html of Harvard University, who...
Escherichia colitopA1spoTspoTtopA1topAR.J. Woods et al., "Second-order selection for evolvability in a large Escherichia coli population," Science, 331: 1433-6, 2011.





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