- The Loom
Evolution Hidden in Plain Sight
It’s hard to believe that Escherichia coli could have any secrets left.
For over a century, scientists have picked the microbe apart–sequencing its genes, cracking its genetic code, running experiments on its metabolism, earning Nobel Prizes off of it, and turning it into, arguably, the most-studied organism in history.
But as deep as scientists dive, they have yet to touch bottom. That’s in part because Escherichia coli is not fixed. It continues to evolve, and even in the most carefully controlled experiments, evolution leaves behind a complicated history.
Twenty-five years ago, Richard Lenski used a single microbe to seed twelve lines of bacteria. He fed each line a meager diet of glucose, and the bacteria have been adapting to this existence in