Feeds

Why does natural selection take so long to get results?

Survival of the fittest

The essential guide to IT transformation

Also in this week's column:

Why does natural selection take so long to get results?

Asked by Colin Jackson of Telford, UK

The reader further asks, "when controlled breeding programs can get results in a relatively much shorter period of time, wouldn't more rapid evolution itself be a good species survival trait and thus have been selected for?"

Although there is fierce debate as to how fast natural selection can proceed and if natural selection is still proceeding in humans due to our technology, there is a short answer. Speed is probably not very important in natural selection and is certainly not the only consideration in natural selection.

There is a danger in mutation. Most mutations do not help the species survive. A species and an environment exist in balance with each other. Populations simply adapt to their current surroundings and to changes in those surroundings. They do not necessarily become better in any absolute sense over time.

A change in the environment may require a change in the species for that species to survive. But if a mutation spreads too quickly across an entire species it may prove maladaptive to the species if the environment undergoes a further change. More diversity in mutations and hence change is probably better than speed in a mutation becoming widespread in a species.

Related to this question, an important principle of natural selection is that a trait that is successful at one time may be unsuccessful at another. This principle was demonstrated by the classic experiments of C Paquin and J Adams of the University of Laval in Quebec, Canada, and published in Nature in 1983.

Paquin and Adams developed a yeast culture and maintained it for many generations. Every so often a mutation would appear that allowed its bearer to reproduce better than its contemporaries. These mutant strains would crowd out the formerly dominant strains. Samples of the most successful strains from the culture were taken at a variety of times.

In later competition experiments, each strain would out-compete the immediately previously dominant type in a culture. But interestingly, some earlier strains could out-compete strains that arose late in the experiment. Competitive ability of a strain was always better than its previous type. Yet competitiveness in a general sense was not increasing.

The success of any organism depends on the traits of its contemporaries. There is likely no optimal design or strategy for most traits, only ones based on chance such as the competition and the environment.

Stephen Juan, Ph.D. is an anthropologist at the University of Sydney. Email your Odd Body questions to s.juan@edfac.usyd.edu.au

Gartner critical capabilities for enterprise endpoint backup

More from The Register

next story
Boffins attempt to prove the UNIVERSE IS JUST A HOLOGRAM
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
China building SUPERSONIC SUBMARINE that travels in a BUBBLE
Shanghai to San Fran in two hours would be a trick, though
LOHAN Kickstarter push breaks TWELVE THOUSAND POUNDS
That's right, folks, you've stumped up OVER 9000 beer tokens - and counting
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
Galileo, Galileo! Galileo, Galileo! Galileo fit to go. Magnifico
I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me. But at least I can find my way with ESA GPS by 2017
Astronomers scramble for obs on new comet
Amateur gets fifth confirmed discovery
prev story

Whitepapers

Best practices for enterprise data
Discussing how technology providers have innovated in order to solve new challenges, creating a new framework for enterprise data.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Advanced data protection for your virtualized environments
Find a natural fit for optimizing protection for the often resource-constrained data protection process found in virtual environments.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?