diversification. With this power, you could gain insight into the potency of phylogenetic constraints, examine the effects of environmental constancy or complexity, and pursue a host of other evolutionary questions.
Yet this fantasy is not fiction; it is fact. We have many such "fossil beds" preserved, and we have "traveled in time" to manipulate populations with respect to their history and environment. The fossil beds are preserved in a freezer and contain populations of the bacterium Escherichia coli. Our time travel thus far extends over 5 years, representing > 10,000 generations in this system, and we have manipulated many populations each comprising millions of individual organisms. In essence, our approach might be called experimental paleontology.
The following section gives a quick overview of our experimental system. We then analyze and interpret our experiments, which are organized around the analogy to an increasingly fantastic exploration of fossil beds. The discussion relates our findings on the dynamics of adaptation and diversification to theories of micro- and macroevolution. Finally, we briefly discuss tensions that inevitably encroach on any effort to forge an experimental link between micro- and macroevolution.
Twelve populations of E. coli B were propagated in replicate environments for 1500 days (10,000 generations). Each population was founded by a single cell from an asexual clone, and so there was initially no genetic variation either within or between replicate populations (except for a neutral marker used to identify populations). The experimental environment consisted of a serial transfer regime, in which populations were diluted (1:100) each day into 10 ml of a glucose-limited minimal salts medium that supports 5 × 107 cells per ml. Populations were maintained at 37°C with aeration. Every day, the bacteria underwent a lag phase prior to growth, followed by a period of sustained growth, eventual depletion of the limiting glucose, and starvation until the next serial transfer. The 1:100 dilution permits 6.6 (log2 100) cell generations per day. Samples from each population were periodically stored at -80°C, along with the common ancestor.
In this paper, we report the dynamics of two properties of the evolving bacterial populations, cell size and mean fitness. Size is a morphological trait commonly studied by paleontologists and influences many functional properties of organisms. Fitness is the most important property of any organism according to evolutionary theory. The mean fitness of a population was obtained by allowing it to compete against the common ancestor. Relative fitness was then calculated as the ratio of the competitors' realized rates of increase (Malthusian parameters). Cell