another nail in creationism's coffin, maybe

Posted by Bushel Basket in

This post goes out to my fellow biologist geeks.

Scientist Richard Lenski got into the National Academies of Science for growing bacteria and tracking the process of evolution. For twenty years, he has grown e-coli bacteria in a food starved environment; He's grown 44,000 generations and froze samples every 500 generations. One of the bacterial lines evolved the ability to digest the growth medium it was suspended in, giving it a distinct advantage. Because he had preserved samples, he was able to do what no other experiment was able to do, track the individual DNA changes that led to this evolved trait. Not only was he able to document evolution, but the evolutionary process itself. Read more about it here and here.

This isn't the first time that an evolutionary change has been observed under environmental conditions. In fact, evolution is visible in the everyday world with each new strain of cold or flu virus or the creation of a new breed of dog or other pet. Doonesbury published this cartoon to highlight the health implications of evolution.

I don't propose to layout the theological or philosophical argument for evolution instead of creationism or intelligent design. I just want to geek out over the fact that there was a person who ran an experiment for 20 years to learn more about how our world works. I find that devotion remarkable and admirable.

As an added bonus, one concept that was reinforced by the results of this experiment was that a precursor mutation, by itself not useful to the survival of the bacteria was necessary to evolve this new trait much later. It's a reminder that we shouldn't be too quick to judge something as beneficial or non-beneficial, as it make take quite some time for things to shake out. We are biologically reminded of a taoist parable:

"There is a story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. "Such bad luck," they said sympathetically. "May be," the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. "How wonderful," the neighbors exclaimed. "May be," replied the old man. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. "May be," answered the farmer. The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son's leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. "May be," said the farmer."

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This entry was posted on Monday, June 16, 2008 at Monday, June 16, 2008 and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


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