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; 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.

PLoS Genet.

Interested in reading more?

Become a Member of

Receive full access to more than 35 years of archives, as well as TS Digest, digital editions of The Scientist, feature stories, and much more!
Already a member?