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Science

First Lab Demonstration That the Ability To Evolve Can Itself Evolve 72

Posted by Soulskill
from the turn-their-evolvificating-up-to-11 dept.
ananyo writes "Research on Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, shows that the capacity to evolve can itself be the target of natural selection. B. burgdorferi can cause a chronic infection even if its animal host mounts a strong immune response — evading those defenses by tweaking the shape and expression of its main surface antigen, VIsE. A series of unexpressed genetic sequences organized into 'cassettes' recombine with the VIsE gene, changing the resulting protein such that it escapes detection by the host's immune system. The researchers studied the molecular evolution of the cassettes' genetic sequences in 12 strains of B. burgdorferi. They found that natural selection seemed to favor bacteria with more genetic variability within their cassettes, and hence a greater capacity to generate different versions of the antigen. 'Greater diversity among the cassettes in itself shouldn't be a selective advantage considering they aren't expressed and don't do anything else,' says lead author Dustin Brisson. 'But we did find evidence of selection, so the question is: what else could it be for besides evolvability?'"
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First Lab Demonstration That the Ability To Evolve Can Itself Evolve

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  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Friday November 15, 2013 @02:09PM (#45435267)

    My cassettes all migrated to CD's, and then from there to digital audio.

    So extrapolating from that it seems the end game for all evolution is becoming beings of pure energy, DRM optional.

    • According to the scientiific dogma. Given enough time it fills all ecologic niches, inlcuding intelligence and outer space space.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Megane (129182)
      My viruses are totally retro. They use 8-track tapes.
    • Matter-energy conversion principle says that you already are pure energy, just that some of that energy is expressed as mass.

    • by neo-mkrey (948389)
      Best post on /. in weeks!!
    • by asliarun (636603)

      My cassettes all migrated to CD's, and then from there to digital audio.

      So extrapolating from that it seems the end game for all evolution is becoming beings of pure energy, DRM optional.

      Not trying to do the "one up" thing here, but IMHO, the end game for evolution would be to become beings of pure information. Energy and matter are merely vehicles to store and transfer information content. We would probably get equally frustrated with the limitations of existing as energy beings as we currently do with the flaccid biological bags that we exist in.

      And your DRM comment is indeed something to ponder on - the artificial copy protection mechanisms that we have slapped on top of our existence -

  • Common sense (Score:4, Insightful)

    by JustNiz (692889) on Friday November 15, 2013 @02:16PM (#45435361)

    It just seems common sense to me that if evolution can/does affect every mechanism in a living organism, then the mechanism governing the ability to evolve must itself be included.

    • Re:Common sense (Score:5, Insightful)

      by abroadwin (1273704) on Friday November 15, 2013 @02:21PM (#45435441)
      You're right, it is common sense. My initial reaction to this was the same as yours. That said, it's very useful to verify common sense scientifically, because it's amazing how often common sense proves to be wrong when formally tested. Take nothing on faith, not even (and perhaps especially) the obvious.
    • if evolution can/does affect every mechanism in a living organism, then the mechanism governing the ability to evolve must itself be included.

      yes.

      these researchers created a *false distinction* in their research question

      They took what you call 'the mechanism governing the ability to evolve' and found a behavior in nature that they could drive a false dichotomy wedge into to create a *factor* where none exists. Here is where they invent the distinction out of *thin air* based on their personal opinion:

      'Greater diversity among the cassettes in itself shouldn't be a selective advantage considering they aren't expressed and don't do anything else,' says lead author Dustin Brisson.

      highlighted portion is **pure speculation** and forms the leverage for their whole experiment...if that ***opinion*** by the research is wrong the whole thing sinks...and it is just that one dude's opinion...which is not how a scientific research question is formed

      bottom line: the process they describe, the bacteria being selected b/c some are more likely to survive is absolutely 100% main line accepted theory...their work does not in any way represent a new or different behavior in life

      disclaimer: I am not a creation science supporter...i hate it...but I also hate equally the notion that **science can prove God does or does not exist**...looking at bacteria to somehow 'prove' evolution makes 'god' a delusion is itself a delusion.

      science cannot prove **OR** disprove something abstract like a supernatural 'god'

      • It certainly is the way science is done. It's called an hypothesis.

        And yes, this research isn't seeking to overturn current dogma. It's seeking to support it.

        You are completely missing the basis and point of this research. It's not all that controversial or unusual. God may or may not still exist and TFA isn't anywhere near trying to bring up that question.

        • I can piss in a jar and call it a "hypothesis"....

          That...doesn't...necessarily...make...it...so....

          It certainly is the way science is done. It's called an hypothesis.

          The hypothesis is just one glaring area where the **false distinction** error is evident.

          It is an error in logic....based on a false distinction that invents a factor to test where none should logically exist in an area of a theory that has been proven.

          Another way to say this is, proving that 'the ability to evolve' itself has the ability to ev

    • Yeah, this isn't new. Dawkins talked about this his book: The Greatest Show On Earth
  • by JoeyRox (2711699) on Friday November 15, 2013 @02:17PM (#45435383)
    Maybe I'm overlooking the significance of this discovery but why is it surprising that a bacteria strain with a greater "genetic variability" would fall under natural selection? Wouldn't such a strain naturally survive others considering it allows the bacteria to rearrange antigens and thus the ability to evade detection and destruction by the host's immune system, even if those latent facilities aren't immediately apparent to an observer who doesn't know the full evolutionary history of the strain?
    • I always thought this was the acknowledged importance of sexual reproduction as well: It increases the variability.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I'm also surprised about the surprise. After all, the evolutionary success concerns not the individual, but the whole set of descendants. A higher mutation rate (as long as it is low enough to not threaten the reproduction at all) means that the organism will be able to move more quickly adapt to the environment (and the immune system of the host is actively changing, therefore being able to adapt quickly would be a major advantage). On the other hand, organisms which are already well-adapted to an essentia

    • by Kjella (173770)

      I think it's more that the evolutionary pressure is not currently present, so what you're seeing is a genetic holdover from past generations. Imagine you're witnessing the evolution of the giraffe, in years of drought the tallest survive as they can reach leaves higher up on trees than others. What do you see in rainy years when there's plenty food lower down, do you expect giraffes to keep getting taller? Why not, because even though it may seem pointless and irrational in this generation maybe in three ge

      • by vux984 (928602)

        because history has given it reason to and it'll keep selecting for it until there's a stronger selection pressure to the contrary.

        No, that's not how evolution works.

        In rainy years, they all live. They all reproduce. And taller giraffes will not reproductively fare any better than shorter ones, everything else being equal.

        "Selection" is not a concious effort, nor even a subconcious effort, nor even an instinctual biological response at a cellular level. There is no "selection in anticipation" of some future

    • by s.petry (762400)
      Glad I read your summary before TFA. Reading a claim that "Evolution can evolve" is like a claim of "movement can move", or "changes can change". I'm guessing that the article is nonsense like the summary, so I'm sure not racing to read it. I could be wrong, but your summation increases my reluctance.
  • Any and all inherited traits can evolve, including the capacity for evolution, itself.

    • by Agent0013 (828350)

      Any and all inherited traits can evolve, including the capacity for evolution, itself.

      Wouldn't that imply that there could possibly be creatures that don't have the capacity for evolution? That does not seem correct to me as even a clone can evolve through cosmic rays hitting the DNA directly. Still counts as evolution.

      • Individual organisms don't evolve. Only species and populations evolve. You're talking about mutation.

        • by Agent0013 (828350)

          Actually I'm talking about a cosmic ray hitting the DNA in the egg or sperm cell of the individual. Or if it was a pure cloning species, then the clone formed from the mutated cells. Both of these would still be considered evolution. Mutation is a cause of evolution isn't it? Evolution just needs changes in the individuals and a selection pressure.

          I just think it is crazy to say that evolution can evolve. That's like saying change can change. It's meaningless. The rate that the species can evolve might vary

          • That's like saying change can change. It's meaningless.

            That's exactly what I told my calculus prof.

  • There's a book called "Darwin's Unfinished Business" written by a guy named Simon G. Powell. He goes into depth on evolution, and how it's inherently intelligent, and self-improving. I'm not going to go all in here explaining more about it, read that book if you're interested. But he nails it, in my opinion. The fact that a seed has embedded into it the instructions to not only build another tree, but another fruit, and another seed - and not just a seed, but a seed that is able to continue on carrying the
  • This flies in the face of all that is good and natural -- the ability to evolve was clearly put in place by some kind of intelligent designer. This is blasphemy, I tell you.
  • The ability to evolve of the ability to evolve may actually evolve.

  • It is easy to imagine a scenario where evolveablity is a long term selective disadvantage. Imagine a species with certain traits that allow it to survive a catastrophe that occurs infrequently. However these traits are dead weight during the good times (=most of the time). If the creature evolves to fast, it will lose all its catastrophe surviving traits during the good times and and get wiped out during a catastrophe. However if it evolves slowly these traits will survive the catastrophe and culling durin
  • And it didn't at once time. But when it was developed there was an explosion in the rate of evolution. Because sexual recombination is a superior form of evolution to simple mutation.

    That said... I'd like to think that genetic engineering is the next step after sex in the evolution of evolution.

    That is... intelligent design. Organisms making themselves into what they want to be... deliberately.

Any sufficiently advanced bug is indistinguishable from a feature. -- Rich Kulawiec

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