Nautilus

Can Life Ever Be Perfectly Adapted to Its Environment?

Can an organism ever become perfectly evolved? In Richard Lenski’s lab at Michigan State University, scientists are trying to see if that’s possible. The idea grew out of the lab’s Long-Term Evolution Experiment, started in 1988, with Escherichia coli; in 2010, they celebrated 50,000 generations (500 occur every 75 days). The lab has 12 populations of the bacteria inhabiting their own climate-controlled flasks of swirling nutrient solution, each like a finch-less Galapagos—an experiment in evolution by natural selection, but one that has been stripped to its bare essentials. 

For the past 28 years, there has been essentially no change in the bacteria’s environment, and the only competition they face is

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