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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.
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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

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."


Media Contacts
Lily Whiteman, National Science Foundation, (703) 292-8310,
Layne Cameron, Michigan State University, (517) 353-8819,

Program Contacts
Saran Twombly, National Science Foundation, (703) 292-8133,

Principal Investigators
Richard Lenski, Michigan State University, (517) 884-5397,

Related Websites
Michigan State University press release on the study:
Richard Lenski's essay and interview in NSF's Evolution of Evolution Special Report:

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2016, its budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $626 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

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Image of Richard Lenski of Michigan State University.
View Video
Some surprising results in the evolutionary race.
Credit and Larger Version

Cover of the March 18, 2011 issue of the journal Science.
Richard Lenski's findings are described in the March 18, 2011 issue of the journal Science.
Credit and Larger Version