Tuesday, 30 August 2016

A key theory of evolution has just been turned on its head

The Alice in Wonderland world of scientists investigating how species evolve sees the apparent downfall of the 'Red King'

Ian Johnston Science Correspondent 

In Lewis Carroll’s book Through the Looking Glass, the Red Queen explains how a race works to Alice: “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”

Scientists have used this as a metaphor for evolution: a fox must be able to run fast enough to catch a rabbit, the rabbit must be able to run fast enough to escape.

However the so-called Red Queen Hypothesis did not seem to work when two species started working together as the one that evolved its ‘mutualist’ traits faster would end up providing more help than it received in return and getting a raw deal.

So for more than a decade scientists have subscribed to the Red King Effect, which held that mutualists developed more slowly – like a king in chess.

But new research, published in the journal Nature Communications, appears to have turned this theory on its head after scientists discovered mutualists can actually evolve faster than those not tied to a partner.

The researchers sequenced the genomes of ants evolved to protect plants like the Acacia, which provide them with food and special chambers for nesting.

These ants were “incredibly aggressive, actively patrolling and attacking herbivores and invaders”, the researchers wrote. 


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