Featured Project: The Evolution of Stress-Induced Hypermutations!

Featured Project: The Evolution of Stress-Induced Hypermutations!

Kelly Weinersmith

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=awmOqf5uRRg]

Understanding mutations is HUGELY important to our understanding of evolution. Mutations are a major way in which new variation is introduced into a population, and variation is the material on which natural selection acts. Without variation, we wouldn’t have new species or new adaptations!

That being said, scientists have generally believed that organisms try to avoid accumulating new mutations as much as possible. When everything is working fine, then why tinker? On average, new mutations are likely to mess up something that already is working fine rather than vastly improving it. For this reason, we have generally expected that organisms will generally try to keep mutation rates low.

This is where Yoav’s AWESOME research comes in! Yoav has created a model to explore how mutation rates should change when bacteria are experiencing major stress. Stressful conditions could include low oxygen levels (for aerobic bacteria) or the presence of pollutants. What he found is that stress may cause bacteria to begin mutating more frequently, and that this increased mutation rate may BENEFIT the bacteria! While tinkering with things when everything is working fine may be a bad idea, Yoav points out that tinkering when things are already bad may help the bacteria come up with new solutions for making their environment less hostile!

So you may be wondering, well that’s all well and good, but why should I care about a model of BACTERIA? Well, another stressful condition for bacteria includes the presence of antibiotics. Yoav’s research suggests that bacteria may mutate more in the presence of antibiotics, which could help them become resistant to the antibiotics faster. By understanding mutation rates in bacteria we can get a better idea of how bacteria become resistant to our best efforts at killing them. Hopefully this information can be used in the future to create more effective antibiotics, which will be harder for the bacteria to escape. Before this can happen though, Yoav’s findings need to be shared broadly with the scientific community. Supporting Yoav’s SciFund project will help him do just that!

Also, this project boasts the only video featuring the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. How can you afford to NOT get behind that?