Friday, November 17, 2006


Natural Selection Can Turn on a Dime

Countering the widespread view of evolution as a process played out over the course of eons, evolutionary biologists have shown that natural selection can turn on a dime -- within months -- as a population's needs change. In a study of island lizards exposed to a new predator, the scientists found that natural selection dramatically changed direction over a very short time, within a single generation, favoring first longer and then shorter hind legs.

The findings, by Jonathan B. Losos of Harvard University and colleagues, are detailed this week in the journal Science. Losos did much of the work before joining Harvard earlier this year from Washington University in St. Louis.

"Because of its epochal scope, evolutionary biology is often caricatured as incompatible with controlled experimentation," says Losos, professor of organismic and evolutionary biology in Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences and curator in herpetology at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology. "Recent work has shown, however, that evolutionary biology can be studied on short time scales and that predictions about it can be tested experimentally. We predicted, and then demonstrated, a reversal in the direction of natural selection acting on limb length in a population of lizards."


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