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.
"Evolution is not just about dinosaurs and apes, but it can occur much more rapidly than we previously thought. Rapid evolution is pervasive, and the list of examples is growing," says Takehito Yoshida, a postdoctoral research fellow in Cornell's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and lead author of the Nature article. Yoshida demonstrated the evolutionary principle with near-microscopic, multicelled animals called rotifers that live to gobble much tinier green algae. He notes, "We humans are part of complex ecosystems, and if we think we're above the effects of evolution, we're not looking close enough. If we want to understand epidemics and outbreaks of insects such as gypsy moths, we should not ignore the effect of evolution."