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Slow and Steady Does in Fact Win the Evolutionary Race

Petri dish showing colonies of E. coli bacteria with a genetic marker
Petri dish showing colonies of E. coli bacteria with a genetic marker – MSU/BEACON

Michigan State University researchers have discovered that bacteria adapted better to their environment when they evolved slowly over a longer period of time. The researchers are calling it the Tortoise-Hare pattern. In this case, slow and steady did in fact win the race.

The study, “A tortoise–hare pattern seen in adapting structured and unstructured populations suggests a rugged fitness landscape in bacteria,” was published in the May issue of the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences. Research was undertaken at MSU’s BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action.

Now, to get a bit more complicated. The study used 96 different populations of E. coli bacteria placed in a grid, one population per space. To simulate the various levels of migration, some populations were allowed into adjacent grid spaces while others were given free reign to spread indiscriminately across the grid. The researchers found that “specifically, metapopulations of Escherichia coli are evolved under different patterns of migration. We find bacteria reach higher fitness and accumulate more mutations under restricted migration than unrestricted migration, which is consistent with a rugged topography. In this way, experimental manipulation of population structure can provide insight into fundamental evolutionary constraints.”

Scientists from the University of Washington, University of Wisconsin, University of Sydney (Australia), University of Chicago and the City University of New York also contributed to the research.

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