Evolution in a lab flask: scientists witness virus speciating into two distinct species


Credit: Pixabay

One of the backbone’s of Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is speciation — the branching of a species into two incipient species. Indirect evidence like genome analysis, fossils or plant and animal population surveys support speciation. However, the process is very slow requiring many breeding cycles, prompting some to question evolution. ‘How can a fish turn into an ape?! Prove it!” is a rhetorical question I often see on facebook and forums across the web. Well, here’s something to show them: a virus speciating in a lab flash, all under the watchful eye of researchers at University of California San Diego.

Justin Meyer, an assistant professor of biology at UC San Diego and lead author of the new study, began his experiments while still a doctoral student at Michigan State University. He and colleagues started breeding  a “bacteriophage lambda”, which is a virus capable of infecting E. coli bacteria using two receptors. These are molecules that line the outside walls of the cell which, like holes for grappling, are used by the virus to attach itself to the infected cell.

What the researchers did was introduce two different types of bacteria to the virus, each with its different kinds of receptors. It didn’t take too long for the virus to branch into two distinct species, each specialized to handle the different cell receptors, as reported in the paper.

Molecular models of the two receptors the virus evolved to specialize on. Credit: Justin Meyer, UC San Diego

Molecular models of the two receptors the virus evolved to specialize on. Credit: Justin Meyer, UC San Diego

“The virus we started the experiment with, the one with the nondiscriminatory appetite, went extinct. During the process of speciation, it was replaced by its more evolved descendants with a more refined palette,” explained Meyer.

Per Darwin’s natural selection, the ‘jack-of-all-trades virus’ went extinct and only those individuals that specialized in attacking the new cell types passed on their genes. “The survival of the fittest led to the emergence of two new specialized viruses,” Meyer explained.

“With these experiments, no one can doubt whether speciation occurs,” Meyer added. “More importantly, we now have an experimental system to test many previously untestable ideas about the process.”

It’s worth mentioning that this isn’t the first time speciation has been observed in real time. For instance, scientists proved speciation occurs in fruit flies, which are far more complex organisms than viruses. If you’d like to learn more about speciation and the various case studies that prove it, check this link.



12 thoughts on “Evolution in a lab flask: scientists witness virus speciating into two distinct species

  1. Brian

    The creationist are not convinced no matter what science you show them. Scientists have been evolving bacteria and viruses for decades. It's my standard argument to prove evolution, but they just don't believe it. We could never have evolved from apes in just 6000 years! ;)

  2. Brian

    I've tried that one too. I ask, well maybe god creates science too, and the universe that science sees. Sometimes it works a little.

  3. SenzibleG

    Better get that virus armory ready for the end of antibiotics – or do nothing and lower are very nasty carbon footprint the dark age way.

  4. Emoticon Johnson

    A virus changed into a different virus. Let's see a virus become a human – and without some scientist manipulating it (that is, a mini-"God" over his mini-"universe").
    Let us know when THAT happens. Until then, evolutionists continue to be deluded, unscientific sheep who believe that the impossible becomes possible as long as it involves ridiculous amounts of time. Absurd.

  5. Brian

    We would need a time travel device to convince you, even then you say it was a hoax. You don't understand science, so you can't extrapolate from test tube evolution in hours, to selective breeding of animals within years, to selective natural evolution of billions of years. You just lack the imagination and science to do so. You need someone to tell you what to think. Who is that. btw? God? Your church?

  6. Emoticon Johnson

    I have little doubt that I am both more naturally intelligent and better educated than you are. What you call science is not science. You are an ignoramus, and that problem is generally connected to a person's lack of morality. You're probably a supporter of homosexual perverts and "transgender" people also.
    You'll see the truth in time, but it will most likely be too late. There will be no rock under which people like you can hide; no hole dark enough to prevent the light from shining in. You'll get what's coming to you for being a filthy liar, and you'll have no choice but to recognize that it was your own fault.
    Better enjoy your fantasy while you can. Your end is near.

  7. Brian

    Really, I went to MIT, I have dozens of international patents and have started several multi million dollar companies. I think I hear you mom telling you to take out the trash.
    I hear a threat in your comment too. I'm NRA and a crack shot. I will defend myself. You are fool. lost in your religion.

  8. Emoticon Johnson

    And yet you can't form sentences correctly. If you went to MIT – and that's a big "if" – it's not a credit to you, but a debit to MIT.

  9. Brian

    You are a fool, who has not presented one shred of evidence, just assertions. Denying evolution, wow.. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

  10. Emoticon Johnson

    Laugh all you like. You are too blind to see that you're a patsy; just one more believer in The Big Lie. As long as you hear something repeated over and over, you'll buy into it. Whether it's evolution, "gay rights," or any other preposterous nonsense, you'll jump onboard if the media and the masses tell you to.

    As mentioned, your day is coming.

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