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Microscopic Neighbors, Evolving Together

from the New York Times (Registration Required)

It seems obvious that how different living things in a community or ecological system bump up against one another would affect how they evolve. That would include everything from the mix of fish in a lake to the bacteria, fungi and insects that coexist in rainwater that pools in the roots at the base of a beech tree.

But, says Diane Lawrence, a graduate student in biology at Imperial College London, what actually happens when a number of species grow together over generations has rarely been examined in the laboratory, since most studies of adaptation involve one species alone, or perhaps two species.

She and Timothy G. Barraclough, a professor of evolutionary biology at the college, and colleagues collected five species of bacteria from beech tree water pools. They ended up using only four species, because one didn't grow well in the lab. They grew each strain in isolation and all four strains together, feeding the bacteria tea made with autumn beech leaves.

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