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Replaying evolution

Scientists show that happenstance mutations matter

5:45pm, June 2, 2008

If Stephen Jay Gould were alive today, he would be smiling. Maybe even gloating.

New research suggests that the famous evolutionary biologist was right when he argued that, if the evolution of life were “wound back” and played again from the start, it could have turned out very differently.

In experiments on bacteria grown in the lab, scientists found that evolving a new trait sometimes depended on previous, happenstance mutations. Without those earlier random mutations, the window of opportunity for the novel trait would never have opened. History might have been different.

“It’s a wonderful experiment, a wonderful set of observations,” comments Geerat Vermeij, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Davis.

Though not firmly conclusive, the new research adds a real-world case study of evolution in action to the decades-old debate stirred by Gould’s thought expe

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