A water-dwelling rotifer (Brachionas calyciflorus) is surrounded by algae (Chlorella vulgaris) it hopes to eat by waving its cilia, at top, and drawing them into its mouth. In fresh water, these rotifers are barely visible as white specks while the microscopic algae are 100 times smaller. T.Yoshida and R.O. Wayne/Cornell University.
Glass chemostats like these, filled with water, nutrients, predators and prey - were used to demonstrate rapid evolution in a matter of weeks by Cornell biologists, including, from left, Nelson Hairston Jr., Stephen Ellner and Gregor Fussmann. Cornell University Photography Copyright © Cornell University
In the fishbowl of life, when hordes of well-fed predators drive their prey to the brink of extinction, sometimes evolution takes the fast track to help the hunted survive -- and then thrive to outnumber their predators.
This rapid evolution, predicted by Cornell University biologists in computer models and demonstrated with Pac-Man-like creatures and their algae food in laboratory habitats called chemostats, could play an important role in the ecological dynamics of many predator-prey systems, according to an article in the latest issue (July 17, 2003) of the journal Nature .
Physicians, the Cornell biologists say, should keep this rapid evolution in mind when investigating interactions between diseases and victims. As one example, they say, it is useful in trying to understand how HIV, the AIDS virus, manages to evolve so swiftly that development of improved vaccines is extremely difficult.
Roger Segelken | Cornell University News Service
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