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Evolution moves more quickly than scientists thought
The Kansas City Star ^ | November 18, 2006 | Eric Hand

Posted on 11/19/2006 1:00:27 PM PST by DaveLoneRanger

ST. LOUIS - Evolution happens. But it can also stop and turn on a dime.

A new study of lizards in the Bahamas shows that the natural selection pressures that drive evolution can flip-flop faster than previously thought - even in months.

"Darwin was right about so many things," said Jonathan Losos, a former Washington University biologist who led the study. "In this case he was wrong. He thought that evolution must occur slowly and gradually."

The lizards and their changing leg lengths are yet another case of evolution occurring in real time. From finches that evolve longer beaks in a few years to bacteria that adapt to strange feeding regimens in days, evolution, as a science, has leapt out of musty museums and into the field.

Scientists say that, from a political perspective, the cases offer a vivid reminder of the continuous process that some people imagine proceeding only in fossilized fits and starts: First monkey, then man.

But for the scientists themselves, the cases show that evolutionary biology has, well, evolved into a predictive, experimental science like any other.

Losos had the perfect Petri dishes: 12 tiny islands in the Bahamas with small populations of insect-eating Anolis sagrei, six-inch long lizards that normally live on the ground but can adapt to life in trees.

On six of the islands, Losos introduced a predator, a large curly-tailed lizard that can gobble up the lizards. He theorized that at first, the fastest prey would survive as they ran for the trees. Natural selection would reward long legs. Then, as the little lizards adapted to life in trees, nimble twig maneuvers and shorter legs would be rewarded.

At the start of the experiment, the scientists, using dental floss nooses on the ends of 10-foot poles, caught all lizards and carefully measured their hind-limbs. After the first six months, their predictions held up. The average leg length of survivors was 2 percent longer than those that were killed. After a year, leg length was 3 percent shorter. The changes were small in absolute terms but statistically very large, said R. Brian Langerhans, a graduate student with Losos.

The study appeared Friday in the journal Science. Losos did the research while at Washington University, but left for Harvard University in June.

The lizard study echoes one of the classic cases of evolution-in-action: Darwin's finches on the Galapagos Islands. For more than 30 years, Princeton University biologists Peter and Rosemary Grant have measured changes in the finches' beaks. After extended droughts, small seeds became more scarce. In a few years, the finches evolved longer beaks to crack the larger, tough seeds that remained. Then as more plentiful times returned, the bird beaks got smaller again.

At Michigan State University, Richard Lenski is studying evolution in test tubes. For almost 20 years, he has reared 12 colonies of E. coli. They have divided more than 30,000 times - which, in terms of human generations, is longer than Homo sapiens has been around. Lenski has challenged the bacteria with strange feeding patterns - feeding them sugars, then starving them.

The colonies all adapted, quickly. But they used different genetic tricks to get there. Their DNA is now remarkably different: an example of parallel evolution.

It's difficult to know how an organism will adapt, and also how subtle environmental changes will kick evolution off in a striking new direction, said Ken Petron, a University of Cincinnati ecologist who worked with the Grants on their finches.

For example, on one trip to the Galapagos during a time of seed scarcity, the Grants expected to find the trend toward larger beaks. But a new, larger finch had colonized the island and was eating the larger seeds, Petron said. It was no longer an advantage for the smaller finches to grow larger beaks.

"It's very difficult to predict the outcome of evolution before it happens," he said.

But if biologists can get better at predicting evolution, it could have applications for areas in which humans are altering the environment and causing evolutionary pressures themselves, Langerhans said. Stanford University ecologist Stephen Palumbi has estimated a $50 billion "evolution bill" associated with the antibiotic and pesticide resistance that bacteria, weeds and insects have evolved in medicine and agriculture.

Had the experiment continued, Losos expected the lizard legs to get even shorter with successive generations. But two hurricanes in quick succession submerged the little islands. "All the living lizards were washed away. Bummer," Losos said.

Some eggs survived, however, and hatchling populations are growing. Losos plans to start the experiment over.


TOPICS:
KEYWORDS: crevolist; evolution; naturalselection; religionisobsolete
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To: DaveLoneRanger


Isn't this just more evidence for "Intelligent Design"? Increasing and greater complexity among life forms, etc. Confusing... my head hurts. heh, heh. [sarcasm/]

As an atheist, I just love 'South Park.' Even the recent episodes bashing atheist groups' zeal have been superb. What a great show! Go, South Park! I'm sure they are working on a new episode as we type.


21 posted on 11/19/2006 1:32:57 PM PST by 4Liberty (privatize don't subsidize!)
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To: DaveLoneRanger
"If this "microevolution" takes place quicker than it was thought, that means that the macroevolutionary changes would be more readily observable now, yet they are not."

And that is why this story, like the long frog leg story, will quickly die. Neither had anything to do with evolution, but the use of the E word in the article will cause attrition.

22 posted on 11/19/2006 1:33:43 PM PST by editor-surveyor (Atheist and Fool are synonyms; Evolution is where fools hide from the sunrise)
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To: PoorMuttly
Not exactly dogs...


23 posted on 11/19/2006 1:34:11 PM PST by DaveLoneRanger (Celebrating my two-year anniversary! Yehaw!)
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To: billybudd

Zero to sixty is just an expression.

As I've pointed out frequently, the 99% number is inaccurate and misleading, and even when it's just mildly distorted, was usually cast as 98%.


24 posted on 11/19/2006 1:36:02 PM PST by DaveLoneRanger (Celebrating my two-year anniversary! Yehaw!)
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To: 4Liberty

The article is written for our dumbed down public school students and general population: no creationist would argue with it..it's just the spin and attributing this to a macro evolutionary spin.It's laughable if one knows the issues


25 posted on 11/19/2006 1:36:50 PM PST by caffe (please, no more consensus)
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To: AntiGuv
Yes. That is why creationists cover other reasons to doubt some old-earth numbers.1, 2, 3.

But my point still stands about how this should mean macroevolution should take place more readily.
26 posted on 11/19/2006 1:40:19 PM PST by DaveLoneRanger (Celebrating my two-year anniversary! Yehaw!)
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To: DaveLoneRanger

The lizard changed to a different species? If not, it's not evolution as the brain-warped Darwinists would have us believe.

If there's no increase in genetic information, it's not "evolution."


27 posted on 11/19/2006 1:41:01 PM PST by Theo (Global warming "scientists." Pro-evolution "scientists." They're both wrong.)
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To: DaveLoneRanger
This is NOT the kind of "evolution" necessary to get from a chimpanzee to a human, zero to sixty, in 5.6 million years. These kinds of small changes within the species are the kind of "evolution" that is true, and with which creationists have no problem.

So basically you're an evolutionist. You just believe that evolution takes place for a while and at some point somebody hits a giant red "Off" switch, preventing further evolution from taking place. A bizarre belief, certainly.

28 posted on 11/19/2006 1:42:32 PM PST by Alter Kaker ("Whatever tears one sheds, in the end one always blows one's nose." - Heine)
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To: navyguy
I fully agree with your statements about evolution. What I'm saying is, this is proven, while neodarwinian evolution is not. Yet we use the same generalizing term to describe it. Thus, this is "evidence for evolution" but not for molecules-to-man evolution. That's where it gets tricky, and where intellectually honest scientists would be sure to draw a line of differentiation.

I didn't say this was a way to date the age of the earth. I'm saying these changes don't take eons to occur, and should mean macroevolution takes place under our observation, as opposed to the "so slow we can't hardly observe it" line.
29 posted on 11/19/2006 1:43:43 PM PST by DaveLoneRanger (Celebrating my two-year anniversary! Yehaw!)
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To: editor-surveyor
In short, it is not evolution at all, but adaptability that was designed into the lizards from the beginning.

Yep. From the beginning of evolution.

30 posted on 11/19/2006 1:45:08 PM PST by raybbr (You think it's bad now - wait till the anchor babies start to vote.)
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To: navyguy
Evolution is genetic change within a population. Period. Nothing more, nothing less and nothing else.

That's a bad definition of the term.

Evolution, as Darwinists proclaim, is the increase in transimissible genetic information. It's not "evolution" to go from a dog to a worm -- that would be devolution or entropy or something.

We just don't see "evolution" as Darwinists preach it.

31 posted on 11/19/2006 1:46:08 PM PST by Theo (Global warming "scientists." Pro-evolution "scientists." They're both wrong.)
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To: DaveLoneRanger
Given the election results, I'd be more apt to believe in devolution.
32 posted on 11/19/2006 1:46:47 PM PST by Recovering_Democrat
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To: DaveLoneRanger
Moreover, such unexpectedly rapid change supports a young-earth creationist perspective....And this is further evidence against neodarwinian evolution.

No more than wanting a peanut butter sandwich today means you now hate hamburgers.

It only indicates that change can occur in the short term.

The natural extrapolation is that if the forces that influenced the change continue in the long term the changes will be set into a new evolutionary path.

33 posted on 11/19/2006 1:51:19 PM PST by higgmeister (In the Shadow of The Big Chicken!)
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To: Alter Kaker; DaveLoneRanger
"You just believe that evolution takes place for a while and at some point somebody hits a giant red "Off" switch, preventing further evolution from taking place."

Obviously this is not evolution of any kind; its a creature adapting to the environment for which it was designed, within the limits prescribed by said design.

"A bizarre belief, certainly."

Its not a belief, but simply an incisive observation of real life.

34 posted on 11/19/2006 1:51:38 PM PST by editor-surveyor (Atheist and Fool are synonyms; Evolution is where fools hide from the sunrise)
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To: Recon Dad

I contend that a better example of a short species evolution is the Democrat of 1942 and the Democrat of 2006.
Their brains and spines have shrunk perceptibly. We soon believe they will stop breeding altogether

They are much more clever than that, the ones that do breed will have abortions, and ones who might breed will join in civil unions, and the ones that avoid civil unions will think that they are homosexual and the ones that....

Well, being anti life does come at a price.


35 posted on 11/19/2006 1:53:39 PM PST by padre35 (We are surrounded, that simplifies our problem Chesty Puller)
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To: Alter Kaker; DaveLoneRanger

Dave -- I'd have to agree with Alter Kaker on this one. You either believe evolution or don't. "Micro-evolution" is still evolution.

I, for one, don't believe in evolution (defined as an increase of genetic information transmitted through generations) at all.


36 posted on 11/19/2006 2:01:03 PM PST by Theo (Global warming "scientists." Pro-evolution "scientists." They're both wrong.)
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To: TexasKamaAina

Yes, you are missing something.

When these little changes pile up over millions of years they can become big changes and they we get to call the resulting organisms by a different name.


37 posted on 11/19/2006 2:05:13 PM PST by From many - one.
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To: DaveLoneRanger
But my point still stands about how this should mean macroevolution should take place more readily.

And that is indeed an excellent point.

38 posted on 11/19/2006 2:06:32 PM PST by AntiGuv ("..I do things for political expediency.." - Sen. John McCain on FOX News)
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To: guestfox01

In favor of abandonding scientific research altogether then?


39 posted on 11/19/2006 2:08:13 PM PST by Borges
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To: Theo

Sorry, but you don't get to re-define evolution in order to oppose it.

It is most specifically not defined as an "increase in trasnmissible genetic information"


40 posted on 11/19/2006 2:09:26 PM PST by From many - one.
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