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Planet Earth

Is There Nothing E. coli Cannot Do? Part Two of a Continuing Series…

The LoomBy Carl ZimmerApril 19, 2008 9:09 AM


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In my new Dissection column over at Wired, I take a look at a remarkable new experiment on E. coli. Scientists randomly rewired the network of genes that control much of the microbe's activity and found that it generally just kept humming along. One thing worth an accompanying commentary, Matthew Bennett and Jeff Hasty at UCSD write,

This conclusion also flies in the face of the popular misconception among opponents of the evolutionary theory, who believe that the genetic code is irreducibly complex. For instance, advocates of 'intelligent design' compare the genome to modern engineered machines such as integrated circuits and clocks, which will cease to function if their internal design is altered. Although sometimes it is instructive to point to similarities between the design principles behind modern technology and those behind genetics, the analogy can only go so far. Engineered devices are generally designed to work just above the point of failure, so that any tampering with their construction will result in catastrophe. In the event of failure, new clocks can be purchased or central processing units replaced. But nature does not have that option. To survive -- and so evolve -- organisms must be able to tolerate random mutations, deletions and recombination events. And Isalan and colleagues' work provides an important step forward in quantifying just how robust the genetic code can be

. Another reason why I ended up writing a whole book about this bug.

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