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Followup on Evolution and the Emergent Self

January 27, 2012

My last post talked about contrasting evolutionary strategies of large populations that reproduce and mutate rapidly, vs. small populations that use individual adaptability to contend with environmental challenges.  Then this morning in the Times I saw this article: Study Finds Virus to be Fast Learner on Infecting.

The article showed how bacteriophages (viruses that attack bacteria) mutate to use new attack pathways in a matter of days – 15 days in this experiment.  The new attack requires 4 specific mutations, and in 22 out of 96 repeated experimental runs, the persistent little ‘phages hit upon the same set of 4.

Amazing stuff, this is evolution running in the lab.  It also shows the infinite-monkeys principle at work, though in this case the simians aren’t typing Shakespeare, they’re typing a set of 4 mutations.

It’s also a good point to reflect on the fact that we complex, adaptable, novel-writing, sushi-making humans are not the real “rulers” of the planet.  Based on biomass that lofty perch belongs to bacteria, algae and those diligent viruses.

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