The “Red Queen Hypothesis” Tested

THIS is a press release from the Wellcome Trust, the United Kingdom’s largest non-governmental source of funds for biomedical research. It’s about research they helped fund at the University of Liverpool: Red Queen drives evolution. Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:

What drives evolution? Is it steered by changes in the physical environment or is it the interactions that occur between species that are responsible?

It’s a question that has plagued biologists ever since Darwin first proposed his theory of natural selection in ‘On the Origin of Species’, and now researchers part-funded by the Wellcome Trust may have found some clues – from the bacterial kingdom and the viruses that infect them.

Jeepers — have they spotted the Intelligent Designer at work? Let’s read on:

When pairs of species have opposing needs – for instance a host and its virus parasite – they can become locked in an arms race, where an adaptation that improves the chances of one’s survival is necessarily detrimental to the other. The other has to evolve a counter-attack just to keep up. And so forms the basis of the ‘Red Queen Hypothesis’, named after Lewis Carroll’s character from ‘Through the Looking-glass’ who explains to Alice: “here, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”

Here’s the Wikipedia article on the Red Queen Hypothesis. Okay, let’s continue with the Wellcome Trust press release:

This week in the journal ‘Nature’, a team led by Michael Brockhurst and Steve Paterson from the University of Liverpool provide the first experimental evidence that the Red Queen Hypothesis holds true. Using viruses known as phages that replicate by infecting and killing bacteria, they were able to observe hundreds of generations of evolution in action.

This is a link to the Nature article: Antagonistic coevolution accelerates molecular evolution. That’s only the abstract; you need a subscription to read more. Let’s resume reading from the Wellcome Trust:

“We found that when left to their own devices, the bacteria evolved to resist the virus which in turn evolved to infect the resistant bacteria, and so on, exactly as the Red Queen Hypothesis predicts,” Dr Paterson explained.

But that could be merely a coincidence. Moving along:

The team then switched off evolution on one side, by holding the bacteria in a constant state and providing a fixed target for the virus, to see whether this would affect how fast the virus evolved.

When the bacteria were unable to adapt themselves, the rate of virus evolution slowed down to almost half that seen when the two species were allowed to evolve in tandem. What’s more, the team found there was much less genetic variation in the resulting virus populations than those that co-evolved with the bacteria under Red Queen evolution.

Nicely done. That’s good science. Here’s the end of the press release:

“Together, our findings suggest that it is the interactions between species that are the main drivers of evolution. And by causing rapid divergence, they could even lead to speciation itself,” said Dr Brockhurst.

Once more, dear reader, we see how diabolically clever the Designer is in concealing his presence. Verily, this is a challenging test of faith for creationists. We suspect they’ll handle it splendidly.

Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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One response to “The “Red Queen Hypothesis” Tested

  1. So a virus doesn’t need to adapt if it’s host doesn’t adapt.
    How much money did they spend figuring that one out?