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News Link • Biology, Botany and Zoology

Can Organisms Evolve The Ability To Evolve?

•, By Francie Diep
Can things evolve to evolve? Okay, so that sounds like a cheesy line from a self-help book, but what I'm talking about here is actual biological evolution. Depending on the situation, evolution is obviously able to drive the development of traits like rapid cooling, camouflaging color, or fecundity. But one team of U.S. biologists got to wondering whether quick evolution itself was a trait selected for by evolution.

At least in microbes, flexibility and "evolvability" really are selected for, the team found in a study. The study, the team says, offers the first direct evidence of this happening.

The idea of evolution driving evolvability is "highly controversial," the team, including biologists from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Kentucky, wrote in their paper, published in the journal PLOS Pathogens. Although many quickly evolving creatures are successful, it seems strange that evolution should build that into organisms. After all, evolution should be as blind to the future as your local psychic (Sorrynotsorry). Natural selection selects for traits that are useful right now. Sometimes those traits happen to be useful to later generations in unexpected ways, but there's no mechanism in evolution to actively prepare for the future, which is what evolvability does.

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