I first heard about experimental evolution while reading “The Greatest Show on Earth” by Richard Dawkins. In my naïve view, how could anyone really perform experiments on evolution? Doesn’t it take millions of years? The chapter referenced the E. Coli Long-Term Experimental Evolution Project. I was blown away by the fact that this lab was taking advantage of the short reproduction and life cycle of E. Coli to study evolution in the lab.
I was reminded of this great experiment the other day by an article about another lab studying experimental evolution using microalgae instead of E. Coli. Sinead Collins leads a group in the UK that is studying how microalgae respond to changes associated with ocean acidification or increased levels of carbon dioxide. They have found that while these algae use carbon to complete photosynthesis, they are sensitive to overly high levels of carbon. In an acidic environment, the algae start to get “syndromes” and fail to use up the increased carbon available to them. This goes against the beliefs of many that say that the aquatic life will simply use up the increased carbon in an acidified ocean.
These two groups have each found an organism and a method that will allow them to study evolution experimentally in the lab.