Evidence for punctuated equilibrium lies in the genetic sequences of many organisms, according to a study in this week's Science. Researchers report that about a third of reconstructed phylogenetic trees of animals, plants, and fungi reveal periods of rapid molecular evolution."We've never really known to what extent punctuated equilibrium is a general phenomenon in speciation," said Douglas Erwin of the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., who was not involved in the study. Since its introduction by Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge in the 1970s, the theory of punctuated equilibrium -- that evolution usually proceeds slowly but is punctuated by short bursts of rapid evolution associated with speciation -- has been extremely contentious among paleontologists and evolutionary biologists.While most studies of punctuated equilibrium have come from analyses of the fossil record, Mark Pagel and his colleagues at the University of Reading, UK, instead examined phylogenetic trees generated...

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