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How Organisms Evolve New Functions

By Tim Sandle
Posted Dec 3, 2012 in Science
A team of researchers at Michigan State University has documented the step-by-step process in which organisms evolve new functions. The results, published in the current issue of Nature, are revealed through an in-depth, genomics-based analysis that decodes how E. coli bacteria figured out how to supplement a traditional diet of glucose with an extra course of citrate.
The researchers uncovered a three-step process in which the bacteria developed this new ability.
The first stage was potentiation, when the E. coli accumulated at least two mutations that set the stage for later events. The second step, actualization, is when the bacteria first began eating citrate, but only just barely nibbling at it. The final stage, refinement, involved mutations that greatly improved the initially weak function. This allowed the citrate eaters to wolf down their new food source and to become dominant in the population.
These interesting findings have been published in Nature:
Zachary D. Blount, Jeffrey E. Barrick, Carla J. Davidson, Richard E. Lenski. Genomic analysis of a key innovation in an experimental Escherichia coli population. Nature, 2012.

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