Accident, not competition, wiped out E. coli
NEERJA HAJELA AND BRIAN BAER/MICHIGAN STATE UNIV.
A die-off of bacteria that had been growing for thousands of generations in a carefully controlled lab experiment offered an evolutionary lesson this year: Survival depends not only on fitness but also on luck.
For more than a quarter century, evolutionary biologist Richard Lenski and colleagues have been growing 12 flasks of E. coli at Michigan State University. About 31,000 generations in, some of the bacteria in one flask evolved the ability to use a chemical called citrate as an energy source. Bacteria in that flask that couldn’t eat citrate went extinct, seemingly because they had been outcompeted, the scientists thought.
But when Lenski and his team replayed evolution, reviving samples stored