Predictable Evolution Trumps Randomness of Mutations

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Bacteria such as Escherichia coli can acquire predictable mutations to adapt to a changing environment.
(image by Flickr/Microbe World)

Although mutations, the driver of evolution, occur at random, a study of the bacterium Escherichia coli reveals that nature often finds the same solution to the same problem again and again. Over time, random mutations enable organisms to adapt and diversify, often when geographically separated groups of the same species grow better suited to their local environment and less like members of the other group. The DNA showed that in some cases identical mutations appeared independently in all three test tubes: despite the random nature of mutations, the same changes in the environment favored the same genetic solutions. Doebeli and Herron also found that some mutations occurred only in a specific order: after one group had become specialized for glucose and the other for acetate, both groups evolved to switch better between meal types.

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