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Biotech Science

Bacteria Make Major Evolutionary Shift In the Lab 1185

Posted by kdawson
from the forty-four-thousand-generations dept.
Auxbuss sends us to New Scientist for news sure to perplex and confound creationists: scientists have watched a new, complex evolutionary trait develop in the lab. "A major evolutionary innovation has unfurled right in front of researchers' eyes. It's the first time evolution has been caught in the act of making such a rare and complex new trait. And because the species in question is a bacterium, scientists have been able to replay history to show how this evolutionary novelty grew from the accumulation of unpredictable, chance events."
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Bacteria Make Major Evolutionary Shift In the Lab

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  • Two words (Score:5, Funny)

    by $RANDOMLUSER (804576) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @02:55PM (#23733629)
    Continuous creation. God put those new bacteria there to test my faith ;-)
    • Re:Two words (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fastest fascist (1086001) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @03:11PM (#23734107)
      More insightful than funny. Creationism has nothing to do with a balanced look at the facts, and everything to do with strong personal beliefs. No amount of proof will turn the head of a devout creationist, since God, via the Bible (or the creationist's interpretation of it) is the ultimate authority.
      • Re:Two words (Score:5, Insightful)

        by omeomi (675045) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @03:22PM (#23734431) Homepage
        Which is fine with me. People can believe what they want. Where I start to have problems is when they want to start forcing others to teach their personal beliefs in Science class.
        • Re:Two words (Score:5, Insightful)

          by lymond01 (314120) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @03:47PM (#23735227)
          Which is fine with me. People can believe what they want.

          Because every good science article needs a religious debate....For simplicity's sake, let's say there's evolutionists (evos) and creationists (godists). When evos make the mistake of saying "People can believe what the want" they are making the assumption that beliefs have nothing to do with actions. This, in general, is not the case.

          If I'm a godist, I might believe that God cures all ills, and never take my pneumonia-ridden son to the hospital. Bummer for my son but it was God's choice if he died. If I'm a godist, I might believe that evolution is a myth meant to defeat my faith. I ignore science, I lobby to create laws that ignore science, and I preach to other people to ignore science. I believe science is wrong and I want to convince other people of this truth.

          So you can have personal beliefs that very much affect your public actions. Putting your money where your mouth is, so to speak.

          The answer to ignorance of science or ignorance of faith is always going to be education - school, word of mouth, whatever. We need to talk it out, show why science is useful, and why the community of religion and other aspects can also be useful, and why either can be detrimental (sure the A-bomb was neat, but geez...).
          • Re:Two words (Score:4, Interesting)

            by element-o.p. (939033) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @04:39PM (#23736389) Homepage
            Or you could be like me: a godist (in your terms) who really wants to reconcile science and faith. If a scientific discovery comes along that challenges my understanding of the Bible, then I need to figure out how what I understood the Bible to say is different than what God really intended to say. Back in Galileo's day, the position of the Church was that the earth was the center of the universe, and all the heavens (lower-case "h") revolved around it. No matter how hard I try, I can't find that in the Bible. Ergo, no conflict between science and religion. The Big Bang vs. creationism -- well, what do you think it would have looked like if God spoke and suddenly a universe was born? ;) Evolution vs. creationism...well, the Bible says God created all of the creatures on the earth, but it doesn't describe the method by which He did it, does it? Having said that, I'm not quite ready to embrace evolution as the origin of species (as opposed to evolution within species, which I do accept), but this discovery is definitely interesting.

            The answer to ignorance of science or ignorance of faith is always going to be education - school, word of mouth, whatever. We need to talk it out, show why science is useful, and why the community of religion and other aspects can also be useful, and why either can be detrimental (sure the A-bomb was neat, but geez...).
            Agreed 100% -- I couldn't have said it better, no matter how hard and how long I tried.
            • Re:Two words (Score:4, Interesting)

              by Idiomatick (976696) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @05:28PM (#23737327)
              That sure is a lot of effort to rationalize an old book. Wouldn't it be easier to take it from a new standpoint ... look at the world then the book and decide whether or not its needed?
               
              Anyways there are contradictions within the bible itself. How is that rationalized. How do you rationalize the 6000year issue?
               
                Also, about the flat earth thing: http://sol.sci.uop.edu/~jfalward/Flat_Earth.htm [uop.edu]
              • by Micah (278) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @09:19PM (#23740951) Homepage Journal
                > How do you rationalize the 6000year issue?

                Easy. The days in Genesis 1 are long ages of time. In fact Gleason Archer, probably the best Hebrew scholar of modern times, has argued that the way the text is worded rules out the calendar-day theory. Also there are demonstrable gaps in the genealogies, so I have no problem with humans being on earth tens of thousands of years.

                When you look at the whole Bible, including everything it says on Creation, it describes Big Bang cosmology fairly accurately (well not the science of the BB itself of course, but the effects of a BB universe).

                > Wouldn't it be easier to take it from a new standpoint ... look at the world then the book and decide whether or not its needed?

                I've done that, and to me the Bible describes reality more consistently than other worldviews.
              • Re:Two words (Score:5, Interesting)

                by Rimbo (139781) <rimbosity AT sbcglobal DOT net> on Wednesday June 11, 2008 @03:44AM (#23744203) Homepage Journal
                The simple way is to look at the Bible for what it is: A collection of writings by different human beings at different points of time who all had different views of the world. That pretty much covers all of the conflicts. It does, however, require you to use your brain from time to time.

                Hi! I'm a Christian, and I'd like to introduce you to a version of Christianity you might not have known existed: The kind that believes that if facts conflict with dogma, then facts win.

                Rant follows:

                There's an interesting history to Fundamentalism, and it (and the history of the Bible) is well-covered in the phenomenal book Whose Bible Is It? [amazon.com]. But the short version is that at some point, along with all of the Scientific knowledge that was challenging a lot of how we understood how the world works, a lot of Biblical scholarship occurred since the Enlightenment that was challenging to some standard dogmas. For example, the original Hebrew prophecy of the Messiah spoke of a "young girl," which in the Greek Septuagint -- which was the most popular "Bible" back when the New Testament was being written -- translated into a word meaning "virgin." Well, this eventually snowballed into the Immaculate Conception, but starting from the 1700s or so Christians started to recognize that what really happened was that young teenage Mary got herself knocked up.

                As people began to recognize these sorts of things, obviously there was some resistance from those who felt that commonly-held and well-treasured dogmas that had been held for nearly 15 centuries really weren't up for debate, and sometime in the early 20th century these "not up for debate" dogmas were published as pamphlets titled, "The Fundamentals." (From which we get the name, "Fundamentalism.")

                Now the key thing to note about this is that this didn't begin as a war between Science and Religion. It started out as a conflict within Religion itself. And it's notable that the Fundamentalists were taking the view that tradition trumped whatever the Bible actually originally said, that mistranslations and misunderstandings of what was in the book that had become traditional -- such as Young Earth Creationism -- were really more important than what had actually been written. You'll note that this is a very different thing from believing in a "literal" interpretation of the Bible.

                Well, what's happened is that the Fundamentalists won the war. There are some good churches out there left, but generally the populations in those churches are elderly and dying off; in the rest of the churches, intellectuals are ostracized. Young Christians today know little more than a dumbed-down version of Christianity that's based on living through certain traditions, rather than a "way" or a "walk" to try and understand and learn about God; they think they know all they need to about God, and are ready to show the rest of the world just how it is. (Get off my lawn.)

                And this is the Christianity that they now inflict on the rest of the world. It is not my Christianity, not the Christianity I grew up with. But even that good old church was taken over by the Fundamentalists shortly after I left for college. And that war is over.

                Oh, as for Genesis 1? When you look at the text repeated in the verses, you see the same things over and over: "And God created... and said it was good." I think the point here is that God created the universe and everything in it, and called it "good." Note how the sun was not created until the 4th day -- so how could there have been an evening and morning? The "days" are just a poetic device, part of the oral tradition, a (very effective) memory trick used to help people remember the story during the many centuries the story existed but hadn't yet been written.

                (But if you are one of those Christians who needs the Bible to say something before you believe it, just take a peek at Psalm 90:4; given that Genesis is "The Fir
            • Re:Two words (Score:5, Insightful)

              by johnlcallaway (165670) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @05:37PM (#23737477)
              Or take a real look at your faith and realize that the natural world around doesn't need a god to exist if one simply agrees that there are somethings that just can't be explained yet, there is no soul, your life has no purpose except to breed (and what you want to make of it), and everything dies.

              Then you have nothing to reconcile, and life becomes a lot simplier. If that scares you, work on reconciling that.

              Plus, you'll be able to sleep in on Sundays for a change and not have to give part of your income to something that sucks the life out of society and produces nations of sheep.

              Christians sure do work hard to believe in something that doesn't exist, when it's a lot less work to just live your life like you are doing now without all that crap.
              • Re:Two words (Score:5, Insightful)

                by barius (1224526) on Wednesday June 11, 2008 @03:44AM (#23744195)

                I'm an atheist, but I do have to take issue with the following comment:

                Plus, you'll be able to sleep in on Sundays for a change and not have to give part of your income to something that sucks the life out of society and produces nations of sheep.

                Even as an atheist I still volunteer to help at the local Presbyterian church. Why? Because the church provides community services that are not offered anywhere else. The church where I volunteer provides baby-sitting, computer education classes, yard-sales, book readings, community meeting space, discussion groups, and much more. There are so many good things that church groups do that I find it foolish and irrational that so many Atheists automatically discount the very real and tangible benefits of their presence.

                I suggest you at least try to respect the good things done by your local church, even if you disagree with the beliefs. It wouldn't hurt to show them up a bit and actually leave your computer for a few hours a week to join a local charity or community group either.

              • by Half a dent (952274) on Wednesday June 11, 2008 @04:37AM (#23744509)

                there is no soul
                Sure there is and James Brown is its Godfather!
          • Re:Two words (Score:5, Interesting)

            by pugugly (152978) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @05:37PM (#23737471)
            There is the rather ruthless approach as well.

            If you genuinely believe God will cure your son's pneumonia, and I genuinely believe a doctor will cure my daughters pneumonia, then only the survivors of our respective decisions will go on to reproduce.

            As it happens, Pneumonia has a significantly lower mortality when treated than untreated.

            Education is only the answer if you genuinely *like* those people. Alternatively, you can simply allow those that believe in science to reap the awards of science. Personally, I'm all for banning creationists from any technology *not* specifically mentioned as a good thing in the Bible.

            Pug
          • Re:Two words (Score:4, Interesting)

            by Sancho (17056) * on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @05:47PM (#23737627) Homepage

            If I'm a godist, I might believe that God cures all ills, and never take my pneumonia-ridden son to the hospital. Bummer for my son but it was God's choice if he died.
            And your son won't grow up to pass those beliefs on to his children.

            The answer to ignorance of science or ignorance of faith is always going to be education - school, word of mouth, whatever. We need to talk it out, show why science is useful, and why the community of religion and other aspects can also be useful, and why either can be detrimental (sure the A-bomb was neat, but geez...).
            Maybe I'm too cynical, but I just don't see this working on most creationists. Or hell, most religious people (stem-cell research is a great example of a scientific area which doesn't conflict with religion in any way, shape, or form, but which many religious people still protest.)
    • amusing (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fish_in_the_c (577259) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @03:13PM (#23734171)
      I often find it amazing how people are stereotyped. Not all people who believe God is responsible for creation of the universe have a problem with evolutionary theory. Roman Catholics believe God is responsible for everything. Including random chance ( which everyone knows is seldom all the random.)

      So assuming all science were in and we could prove from end to end the entire evolution of the human species , you would have made no progress in proving or disproving either the existence of God or weather or not He was ultimately responsible for the creation of human beings.

      The only group that holds 'evolution can't happen because the bible says' is a very small minority of Christians. Specifically biblical literalists.

      Evolution also poses no particular threat to Hindu or Buddhist belief system.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Strilanc (1077197)
        It's becoming more commonplace for "creationist" to by default mean "young earth creationist", and that is what the GP was most likely referring to (definitely seems that way based on the context).

        Strictly speaking, you're correct because "God created the universe" and "the theory of evolution is true" can both be true.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by NMerriam (15122)

        I often find it amazing how people are stereotyped. Not all people who believe God is responsible for creation of the universe have a problem with evolutionary theory

        Nor are such people called Creationists, so I'm not sure why you think they're being stereotyped in the message you're responding to. Creationists believe God created life (or at least Man) from whole cloth. Believing in Guided Evolution (which is what Catholics and many/most contemporary Protestants believe) isn't remotely controversial exce

      • Re:amusing (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Tebriel (192168) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @03:32PM (#23734755)

        Roman Catholics believe God is responsible for everything. Including random chance ( which everyone knows is seldom all the random.)
        I am a Roman Catholic and that's not true. There's no doctrine stating that God controls every single thing in the universe and there never will be. While you can safely say that God is the ultimate cause of all creation, there's nothing that theologically indicates that God actively controls everything. That's not to say that He couldn't influence anything, but He's certainly not guiding every single atom at every time. He created perfectly good laws of nature to do that for Him.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Obligatory link to xkcd.com here [xkcd.com].
  • by MightyYar (622222) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @02:55PM (#23733633)
    It's a miracle!
  • Remember... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @02:55PM (#23733649) Journal
    "One in a billion odds" means very, very different things for bacteria than it does for humans.
  • by Izabael_DaJinn (1231856) * <slashdot&izabael,com> on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @02:56PM (#23733685) Homepage Journal
    "In the meantime, the experiment stands as proof that evolution does not always lead to the best possible outcome."

    Wasn't that already proven with the rise of homo sapiens?

  • Never Be Enough (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dontPanik (1296779) <ndeselms.gmail@com> on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @02:58PM (#23733741)
    Too bad this evidence still won't be enough to make creationists change their minds.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @02:59PM (#23733749)
    God performs miracle of transformation on bacteria right before the eyes of watching scientists, yet they still refuse to believe in Him.

    Okay... I was just saying :(
  • This is why ... (Score:5, Informative)

    by oldspewey (1303305) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @02:59PM (#23733761)

    This is why doctors ask people to finish the entire bottle when prescribing antibiotics. This is also why we should ban antibacterial hand soaps for domestic use - because when you bathe a population of microbes in something for millions of generations, the odds are that eventually a spontaneous mutation will occur.

    All the anal-retentive clean freaks will just have to figure out how to live with the notion that they - like everyone else - carry microbes on their skin.

    • Re:This is why ... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by slashname3 (739398) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @03:06PM (#23733983)
      I always figured this would be how we kill ourselves off. Over use of antibacterial soaps and cleaners in homes. At some point in the next few decades we will have an outbreak of a supper bug that can not be defeated with any antibiotics that are available. As more and more people die off civilization collapses.

      Of course the good news is that we can then ride around in big honking SUVs made of all kinds of different parts searching for gas and shooting arrows at each other. I wonder where we will get the hair dye for the mohawks that will be in fashion at that time or the leather for the jackets and straps?
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by rho (6063)

        At some point in the next few decades we will have an outbreak of a supper bug that can not be defeated

        I for one...

  • by tiedyejeremy (559815) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @03:00PM (#23733807) Homepage Journal
    Keep it up and it won't be a "just" a theory any more! I'm so sick of my neighbor saying "evolution is just a theory" with a scornful attitude that implies evolution is a whimsical idea kids will have and common sense will later dispel.
    • by zach_d (782013) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @03:03PM (#23733905)
      You could counter your neighbour with "gravity is 'just a theory'" as well.
    • by samkass (174571) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @03:06PM (#23733993) Homepage Journal
      No, it'll still just be a theory. A theory that happens to match reality with a large pile of evidence behind it. But in science, there's really no such thing as a "fact", simply theories with greater levels of evidence supporting them.

      Gravity is just a theory. The Sun-centered solar system is just a theory. Radio waves are just a theory.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Krinsath (1048838)
        Actually, it will someday be "not a theory" I refer you to the example above of gravity. Newton proposed the Theory of Gravity, which has since been tested, observed, and (more or less) universally accepted as true by the scientific community. Hence it is currently the Law of Gravity. You also have the Laws of Thermodynamics from Sir Issac which have similarly been observed, tested and validated over the centuries.

        When a theory is proved to be cogent, and repeatedly true in empirical testing over a long p
  • by viking80 (697716) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @03:01PM (#23733809) Journal
    Ha! God let the devil do this so he can test who are the real faithful, and who are the unfaithful to be smitten.
  • Nylon Bug (Score:3, Informative)

    by Camel Pilot (78781) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @03:02PM (#23733863) Homepage Journal

    It's the first time evolution has been caught in the act of making such a rare and complex new trait


    Didn't the nylon eating bacteria already demonstrate that a complex trait can arise in short order? Actually I think it was industrial waste products from the nylon manufacturing process but still the same.
  • Grow up. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bigstrat2003 (1058574) * on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @03:10PM (#23734077)
    For fuck's sake people, grow up. Can't we discuss a cool scientific discovery without dragging religion-bashing into it? If this changes their minds, it will do so without our mockery. If it doesn't change their minds, it will do so without our mockery. In the meantime, we will have wasted our time, and ceded any moral high ground, by lowering ourselves to the level of 5-year-old "ha ha told you so ha ha ha!" nonsense.

    Anyway, it's an interesting find, but I wonder, why did they not wait until they finished their investigation of the event? It says that they're still figuring out if the change was a random, incredibly rare mutation, or the result of many small changes. Why not wait until you get the whole story to announce your discovery?

    • Re:Grow up. (Score:4, Informative)

      by Jzanu (668651) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @03:26PM (#23734573)
      Funding. Science is expensive.
  • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @03:38PM (#23734943) Homepage

    This is an important result, and it's going to be more important when the mechanism by which it happened is figured out. Read the article.

    The great thing here is that the researcher made a backup every 500 generations of bacteria, by freezing samples. So it's possible to go back and make this happen again and again, which has bee done. Then it's possible to find out exactly when it happened, and eventually decode the DNA before and after the evolutionary jump. This should produce some real insight into the underlying mechanism. We're a step closer to figuring out how evolution really works.

  • What kept them? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by hcdejong (561314) <hobbes@xm s n e t.nl> on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @03:47PM (#23735209)
    The interesting thing will be: why were e.Coli never able to metabolise citrate? Has new code been added to allow for citrate metabolisation, or was the mutation much smaller, maybe removing a blockage from existing but dormant code?

    The press release is fascinating and infuriatingly incomplete at the same time.
  • Wrinkly spreaders (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Michael Woodhams (112247) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @08:00PM (#23739721) Journal
    This isn't the first time we've seen evolution in the lab. Andrew Spiers has been doing it for years - e.g.
    here (2003) [blackwell-synergy.com] or more recently here [plosone.org].

    Basically Spiers grows bacteria in an unstired beaker. As the limiting resource for growth (nitrogen? Oxygen? I forget) is most available at the top of the beaker, it soon evolves a mutation which allows the bacteria to stick together and form a mat at the top ("wrinkly spreader"). Then somewhat later the mat collapses as freeloaders have evolved and come to dominate the population.

    Spiers' experiment is highly predictable - the populations always go through the same phases, but different colonies turn out to have used different mutations to get there. This differs significantly from the research here, where it appears a low probability event has occured.

    (Warning: the above is primarily based on my memory of a talk he gave several years ago. My memory is known to be lossy.)

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