Email Print Share

"Slow V. Go" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
Audio Play Audio
The Discovery Files podcast is available through iTunes or you can add the RSS feed to your podcast receiver. You can also access the series via AudioNow® by calling 641-552-8180 on any telephone.

Michigan State University researchers show that more adaptable bacteria that are oriented toward long-term improvement prevailed over competitors that held short term advantages.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

(Sound effect: Slow clock) Take Your Time -- It's Evolution.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

An evolutionary study of generations of bacteria reads a lot like the fable, 'the tortoise and the hare.' Led by the University of Michigan, it showed that if you're a bacteria, sometimes it's better to be a slow, adaptable tortoise than a fitness-oriented hare.

(Sound effect: storybook music) In the fable, the hare is all like full of himself and instantly gets way out front (Sound effect: cartoon ricochet) (Sound effect: hare laughs). So far ahead, he figures he can take a nap (Sound effect: cartoon snore). (Sound effect: plodding music) By the time he wakes up, the tortoise is plodding across the finish line. (Sound effect: cheers)

How does that relate to bacteria? The MSU study recorded evolutionary change over an unprecedented 52,000 generations of bacteria grown over 25 years. The team was able to clone two distinct lineages from a population of frozen e coli. (Sound effect: game show music -- applause) Welcome to bacterial family feud! And here we go!

One lineage makes a mutational move early in the game that gets them ahead initially, but closes off certain routes for later improvement and eventually winds up extinct. The other lineage is less fit early on, but over the course of several evolutionary moves, produces more beneficial mutations, overcoming its short-term disadvantage. By maintaining greater potential for further adaptation, the tortoises prevail.

Turtle power!

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

General Restrictions:
Images and other media in the National Science Foundation Multimedia Gallery are available for use in print and electronic material by NSF employees, members of the media, university staff, teachers and the general public. All media in the gallery are intended for personal, educational and nonprofit/non-commercial use only.

Images credited to the National Science Foundation, a federal agency, are in the public domain. The images were created by employees of the United States Government as part of their official duties or prepared by contractors as "works for hire" for NSF. You may freely use NSF-credited images and, at your discretion, credit NSF with a "Courtesy: National Science Foundation" notation. Additional information about general usage can be found in Conditions.

MP3 icon
NSF podcasts are in mp3 format for easy download to desktop and laptops, as well as mobile devices capable of playing them.