Time Travel in Experimental Evolution Focus of 2014 Darwin Day

An experiment 25 years in the making was the focus of the Bayer School’s 2014 Darwin Day lecture on Wednesday, Feb. 26.

Darwin Day speaker and evolutionary biologist Dr. Richard E. Lenski, the Hannah Distinguished Professor of Microbial Ecology at Michigan State University, presented Time Travel in Experimental Evolution. The lecture addressed how Lenski’s laboratory propagated 12 populations of Escherichia coli in a simple environment for 25 years and more than 50,000 generations.

“People who don’t understand evolution often comment that you can’t see evolution happening,” said Dr. David Lampe, associate professor of biology and Darwin Day organizer. “Dr. Lenski’s experiments have produced one of the best real-time evolution data sets in existence. He can see evolution at work in real time and, coupled with the ability to freeze and revive organisms, he can also travel back in time, which is unique.”

Two goals of Lenski’s long-term experiment have been to examine the repeatability of evolution and to characterize the dynamics of evolution. He has quantified the extent of adaptation by natural selection, identified many examples of parallel evolution and observed the origin of a novel function that transcends the usual definition of E. coli as a species.

Darwin Day, an annual international celebration of the life and work of Charles Darwin, is sponsored by the Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences. The event emphasizes the importance of science education in today’s modern world and the impact evolutionary biology has on many aspects of our lives.

A recording of the presentation is available on Duquesne’s website.

Additionally, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review published an article about the event. The article can be found on the Trib’s website.

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