EAST LANSING, Mich., Oct. 21 (UPI) -- An on-going Michigan State University project is allowing scientists to observe the evolution of 40,000 generations of bacteria.
Professor Richard Lenski's 21-year-old experiment not only demonstrates natural selection at work, but researchers said it might lead to biotechnology and medical advances.
Lenski started growing cultures of fast-reproducing, single-celled E. coli bacteria in 1988, reasoning that if a genetic mutation gives a cell an advantage in competition for food, it should dominate the entire culture.
While Darwin's theory of natural selection is supported by other studies, Lenski said it had never been studied for so many cycles and in such detail.
"It's extra nice now to be able to show precisely how selection has changed the genomes of these bacteria, step-by-step over tens of thousands of generations," Lenski said.
Since gene mutations involved in human DNA replication are also involved in some cancers, many of the patterns observed in the experiment also occur in certain microbial infections.
"What we learn here can help us better understand the course of (such) diseases," said post doctoral researcher Jeffrey Barrick.
The research that involved collaboration with scientists from South Korea and France is detailed in the journal Nature.