Nothing in Biology Makes Sense: For adaptation, environmental change sets the pace

Polar Bear 2 How fast can the environment change, if living populations are to adapt? Photo by susanvg.

This week at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense! Devin Drown looks at a new experimental evolution study of adaptation in response to a changing environment—in this case, bacteria evolving in response to increasing concentrations of an antibiotic.

In the case of a rapidly changing environment, there are only a handful of solutions and most of the test populations go extinct before the mutations occur. For populations that experience a slow increase in the deathly poison, there appear to be many more ways to evolve resistance. What is especially fascinating about this research is that it appears that these pathways to resistance are only available when the environment changes slowly.

The results have significant implications for how we expect natural populations to respond to climate change and other human-caused environmental shifts—but it’s also a mighty cool experiment. Go read all about it.◼