Richard E. Lenski

Michigan State University

Election Year: 2006
Primary Section: 27, Evolutionary Biology
Secondary Section: 63, Environmental Sciences and Ecology
Membership Type: Member
Photo Credit: Logan Zillmer, Quanta Magazine

Research Interests

I am broadly interested in the ecological and genetic processes that underlie evolution. I pursue an experimental approach to evolution by using bacteria to take advantage of their rapid generations and large populations. In one experiment that started 18 years ago, my lab monitors 12 populations of Escherichia coli as they evolve in a defined environment for over 40,000 generations. We characterize the dynamics of adaptation and divergence as well as identify genetic changes responsible for adaptation. In other projects, we have performed experiments with bacteria, viruses, and plasmids to test hypotheses about the ecological and evolutionary dynamics of host-parasite interactions. We have shown the importance of compensatory mutations for the spread of antibiotic resistance. We have studied the evolution of mutation rates, and the mathematical form of interactions among mutations. We provided experimental support for some alternatives to the controversial hypothesis of 'directed' mutation. We examined sociality in the bacterium Myxococcus xanthus and discovered genotypes that 'cheat' by behaviors that enhance their fitness while harming group performance. For the last decade, I have collaborated on multi-disciplinary research with 'digital organisms' - computer programs that self-replicate, mutate, compete, and evolve - that explores the evolution of biological complexity including metabolic networks, sexual reproduction, and ecological communities.

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