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News Release 11-055

Some Outcomes of the Evolutionary Race Buck Conventional Wisdom

Organisms focusing on long-term mutations survive while others focusing on short-term fitness gains go extinct

Photo of Richard Lenski and another researcher examining a Petri dish.

Richard Lenski and another researcher examine a Petri dish used in a study of evolution.


March 22, 2011

View a video with Richard Lenski of Michigan State University.

For broadcasters: Sound bites are available as SD .mov files from Stephen McNally at (703) 292-8365 and at smcnally@nsf.gov.

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

In some cases, less fit organisms may out-survive their in-shape counterparts, according to a study reported in the March 18 issue of Science. The finding surprised researchers who assumed less fit organisms would be the eventual losers in evolution's fight for survival.

Microbial Ecology professor Richard Lenski of Michigan State University conducted the study with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Using easy-to-understand terms in a revealing video accompanying this release, Lenski describes his results and explains why his study is so unique.

"This remarkable long-term study continues to yield surprises, providing unprecedented detail on the richness and complexity of evolution," said Saran Twombly, a program manager in NSF's Division of Biological Infrastructure. "In this case, experiments reveal how and why the tradeoff between long-term success and short-term gain confers evolutionary success, providing evidence of a compromise long theorized to exist."

-NSF-

Media Contacts
Lily Whiteman, National Science Foundation, (703) 292-8310, email: lwhitema@nsf.gov
Layne Cameron, Michigan State University, (517) 353-8819, email: layne.cameron@ur.msu.edu

Program Contacts
Saran Twombly, National Science Foundation, (703) 292-8133, email: stwombly@nsf.gov

Principal Investigators
Richard Lenski, Michigan State University, (517) 884-5397, email: lenski@msu.edu

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2020 budget of $8.3 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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