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In Sol Spiegelman's classic "Extracellular Darwinian Experiment,"1 the developer of nucleic acid hybridization allowed a miniversion of the Qß genome that replicated with super efficiency to evolve in a test tube. While in vitro evolution has blossomed in the intervening 35 years, one breakthrough in particular has hastened discovery, exemplified by two recent papers.2,3

Niles Lehman, associate professor of chemistry, Portland State University, Ore., says the early evolution experiments had no amplification methods. But now, Lehman says, "PCR is king. It allows amplification of rare sequences out of a large pool." Two groups, both at the Scripps Research Institute, evolved molecules that can repeatedly perform novel catalytic functions. In the past, researchers evolved molecules that perform a single, novel act, such as adding one nucleotide onto a...

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