Replaying the Tape
July 22, 2014 11:14 AM   Subscribe

Carl Zimmer writes for Quanta: The New Science Of Evolutionary Forecasting

Can We Predict Evolution?
Diverse Introspectives: A conversation with Lauren Buckley
What do you think are the most important questions in ecology today?

Predicting species responses to climate change is an overarching question, because we need to get so many of the underlying ecological and evolutionary details right to make accurate predictions. In particular, important and exciting work is emerging addressing how species interactions might modify responses to climate change.
Langerhans, RB: Predicting evolution with generalized models of divergent selection: a case study with poeciliid fish. [PDF]
The fact that such a simple model could yield accurate evolutionary predictions in distantly related fishes inhabiting different geographic regions and types of habitat, and experiencing different predator species, suggests that the model pinpointed a causal factor underlying major, shared patterns of diversification. The GMDS [generalized model of divergent selection] approach appears to represent a promising method of addressing the predictability of evolution and identifying environmental factors responsible for driving major patterns of replicated evolution.
Is Evolution Predictable?: Predicting evolution from the shape of genealogical trees
Given a sample of genome sequences from an asexual population, can one predict its evolutionary future? Here we demonstrate that the branching pattern of reconstructed genealogical trees contains information about the relative fitness of the sampled sequences and that this information can be used to infer the closest extant relative of future populations. Our approach is based on the assumption that evolution proceeds predominantly by accumulation of small effect mutations and does not require any species specific input. Hence, the resulting inference algorithm can be applied to any asexual population under persistent selection pressure. We demonstrate its performance using historical data on seasonal influenza A/H3N2 virus. We predict the progenitor lineage of the upcoming influenza season with near optimal performance in 30% of cases and makes informative predictions in 16 out of 18 years. Beyond providing a practical tool for prediction, our results suggest that continuous adaptation by small effect mutations is a major component of influenza virus evolution.
"Evolutionary forecasting" is also being used to predict drug resistance and flu strains.

The evolutionary time machine: using dormant propagules to forecast how populations can adapt to changing environments
Real-Time Forecasting of Near-Future Evolution

Evolution myths: Evolution is not predictive
posted by the man of twists and turns (3 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

I'm in awe at how far Carl Zimmer is above every other other science reporter in the world. I almost wonder, given his energy and breadth of interdisciplinary knowledge, if he would've been more valuable to the world as a scientist than a messenger.
posted by dgaicun at 11:23 AM on July 22

This is cool. Evolution is happening all around us all the time, it's probably one of the core drivers of many unpredictable phenomenon. I won't speculate but this line of research seems to have a lot of potential.
posted by stbalbach at 12:42 PM on July 22

Zimmer's excellent at what he does.
posted by Segundus at 2:54 PM on July 22

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