The variability of natural systems makes it difficult to understand how organisms’ genes influence the way they look and behave, and how communities of interacting organisms arise. Using laboratory experimental evolution, this variation can be controlled.
A NASA Astrobiology Program-funded team based at the University of Montana previously showed that a single population of bacteria that was cultured in the presence of a single limiting resource evolved into a stable, three-membered community, wherein one member’s waste products are used by the others as a source of food.
In a new study, the team found that the two new members of the community diverged from the original bacteria early on. They conclude that the bacteria generating the waste products consumed by the others in the community is an “engine” generating diversity by creating new niches.