Evolution does not operate with a goal in mind; it does not have foresight. But organisms that have a greater capacity to evolve may fare better in rapidly changing environments. This raises the question: does evolution favor characteristics that increase a species' ability to evolve?
For several years, biologists have attempted to provide evidence that natural selection has acted on evolvability. Now a new paper by University of Pennsylvania researchers offers, for the first time, clear evidence that the answer is yes.
The senior author on the study, published in the journal PLOS Pathogens, is Dustin Brisson, an assistant professor in the School of Arts and Sciences' Department of Biology. His coauthors include Penn's Christopher J. Graves, Vera I. D. Ros and Paul D. Sniegowski, and the University of Kentucky's Brian Stevenson.
"It's not controversial that populations evolve and that some traits are more apt to evolve than others," Brisson said. "What we were asking is whether the ability of an organism to evolve is a trait that natural selection can pick."