Monday, November 20, 2006

Evolution on a chip

Via Nature research highlights I found an intersting article in PNAS about how a group of researchers in Princeton are studying evolution in silico...for real!

Normally, when theoretical biologists talk about biology in silico they are thinking of computer models of biology, but this time the in silico referes to silicon chips that have been used to create patched environments, each one representing a different microenvironment (the main difference between the patches being the availability of nutrients). In these patches they placed colonies of E. coli and let them grow. The bacteria were allowed to move from one patch to the next using narrow corridors.

Interestingly but maybe not surprisingly, the bacteria move towards more promising neighbouring patches and some times, adapt, genetically and physiologically to the environment. Asides from some interesting experiments, the guys have been kind enough to produce some mathematical model to study the evolution in silico as well as analysis of what is the evolution of bacterial density in a patch as nutrient availability gets depleted and competition gets tougher.

It is really interesting stuff but it seems that they need to complicate a little bit more the patches in order to get more adaptation to the environment and less motility to the greener grass.
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