Deus ex machina.
Two Californian scientists recently had an article published in PLos Biology detailing an experiment in which they created a machine that shows a very literal representation of the somewhat abstract concept of evolution. Abstract in the sense that it is difficult to perceive the progression of a reality that you exist in yourself. Thus Brian Paegel and Gerald Joyce of the Scripps Resacrh Institute developed a computer that can drive the evolution of improved RNA enzymes without human interference. This has allowed the modern consciousness lead by these scientists a vessel by which to step outside ones understanding of evolution and observe it occurring right in front of them.
Molecules of different nature have been evolved in laboratories around the world since the 1990’s, but this work is special as for the first time this process has been made automatic without any human input except for switching the machine on and the initial necessary ingredients. Using this computer Paegel and Joyce have managed to r-create the criteria necessary for evolution to occur.
As we all know evolution occurs when there is a variation in a population, and some of the characteristics of these variants provide the host with certain survival or reproductive advantages and where the basis for this advantage can be inherited. In addition there must be a selection pressure, in other words, a reason that not all organisms can survive or reproduce.
Paegel and Joyce’s system fulfilled all of these criteria and created an existence for animals to grow and reproduce and die and live, to evolve. After the experiment was concluded they found that the final enzyme at the end of the experiment had 11 mutations. These mutations made it 90 times more efficient at using the starting ingredients and thus the “evolution machine” portrays quite eloquently the beautiful symmetry of evolution.
Original article: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080408085508.htm
Journal reference: Paegel BM, Joyce GF (2008) Darwinian evolution on a chip. PLoS Biol 6(4): e85. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0060085
Adapted from materials provided by PLoS Biology, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.