E. Coli Forced To Evolve: Old Bacterium Learns New Trick

E. Coli bacteria have been forced to "learn" to survive, according to a story published in February in Science. The general method was remarkably similar to a technique used by award-winning sf author Theodore Sturgeon in his classic 1941 story Microcosmic God.

The laboratory of George Georgiou, professor of chemical and biomedical engineering at UT Austin, used mutant bacteria which were unable to make disulfide bonds. This capability was essential in order to make the flagellum, the waving "paddle" that helps them move around. Placed in a dish of food, they faced certain death if they were unable to move around after exhausting the food they could reach.

Like nature, grad student Lluis Masip made random alterations in the bacteria's DNA and then subjected thousands to the "swim-or-starve" test. Surprisingly, at least one mutant survived by spontaneously creating a new form of disulfide bond that allowed it to survive.

In his story, Sturgeon made use of tiny creatures called Neoterics to solve problems for his protagonist, who put them under life-and-death pressure to force them to work for him. Just wait until Prof. Georgiou decides to use something a little smarter than a bacterium!

See also Researchers Successfully Force Evolutionary Leap; Findings Have Ramifications for Biotechnology Industry and Biotech, Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Software: Evolution Caught in The Act for more details.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 3/17/2004)

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