As described in an article published this week in an advance, online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the work demonstrates some of the classic principles of evolution. For instance, research shows that when different species directly compete for the same finite resource, only the fittest will survive. The work also demonstrates how, when given a variety of resources, the different species will evolve to become increasingly specialized, each filling different niches within their common ecosystem.
Conducted by Sarah Voytek, Ph.D., a recent graduate of the Scripps Research Kellogg School of Science and Technology, the work is intended to advance understanding of Darwinian evolution. Using molecules rather than living species offers a robust way to do this because it allows the forces of evolution to work over the course of mere days, with a trillion molecules in a test tube replicating every few minutes.
"We can study things very quickly," says Scripps Research Professor Gerald Joyce, M.D., Ph.D., who was Voytek's advisor and her coauthor on the paper. Joyce is the dean of the faculty at Scripps Research, where he is also a professor in the Department of Molecular Biology, the Department of Chemistry, and The Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology.
On the voyage of the HMS Beagle, Darwin collected and studied different species of finches on several of the Galapagos Islands. The finches differed in their beak structure some had thick, strong beaks and others had thin, delicate ones. Darwin observed that the different finches were each adapted for the specific types of seeds that served as their primary food source. The big-beaked birds were indigenous to the places where the big seeds grew; in areas where there were also small seeds, there were also small-beaked birds. Darwin reasoned that the finches had a common ancestor but had separated into different species a classic concept in
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