If we are not supposed to eat animals, then why are they made of meat?
Dr. Jacalyn Vogel
(On the subject of biochemical unity, McGill University, Canada, 2011)
Survival of the
fittest most adaptable is at the heart of evolutionary theory, but in the case of environmental deterioration, research published in Scienceby McGill University’s Andrew Gonzalez shows that “fringe” populations have a better chance of adapting and surviving.
Because a lot is known about the genetic make-up of yeast, it was used by researchers to emulate population density and different rates of environmental stress (in this case, that means high concentrations of salt.) Gonzalez and his colleagues observed how the yeast mutated over 2,000 generations and discovered that moderately dispersed populations have the best chance of adapting to “intermediate” environmental stress, provided they had some contact to high levels of stress through an ancestor.
Gonzalez points out the link to global climate and environmental change in a press release issued by McGill:
The same general processes are occurring whether it’s yeast or mammals. At the end of the day we can’t do the experiment with a panda or a moose, for example, because the time it would take to study their evolution is far longer than the time we have given the current rate of environmental change. At some point we have to work at the level of a model and satisfy ourselves that the basic reality we capture is sufficient to extrapolate from.
While previous studies have looked at individual populations and how they evolve to respond to changing environments, the study led by Gonzalez is the first to look at groups of populations of the same species and how these populations evolve collectively to ensure the survival of the species.
Read the study: Graham Bell and Andrew Gonzalez, Adaptation and Evolutionary Rescue in Metapopulations Experiencing Environmental Deterioration, Science 10 June 2011: 332 (6035), 1327-1330. [DOI:10.1126/science.1203105]
These men certainly are fit, but how adaptable are they? Image copyright Wikimedia Commons.