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Watching Bacteria Evolve, With Predictable Results

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If we could somehow rewind the history of life to the dawn of the animal kingdom, it would be unlikely that we humans would ever evolve, the evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould argued. The history of life was shaped by too many flukes and contingencies to repeat its course.

Scientists can’t turn back the clock 700 million years, so we can’t know for sure whether Dr. Gould was right on that particular point. But in experiments using bacteria and other fast-breeding organisms, scientists can replay evolution many times over in their labs. And the results of a new experiment published Thursday in the journal Cell Reports demonstrate — with movies — that evolution can be astoundingly predictable.

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