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October 23, 2012
Bacteria cultures grow in a Petri dish in the evolutionary biology lab of Richard Lenski, the Hannah Distinguished Professor of Microbial Ecology at Michigan State University. Lenski studies the process of evolution using fast-reproducing bacteria that allow him to watch the process in action. Lenski began the study in 1988, when he started experimenting with 12 populations the bacteria E. coli. Lenski used E. coli from the same ancestral strain and living in identical environments so he could see how similarly or differently they would evolve. He planned on running the experiment for at least a year and culture about 2,000 bacterial generations, but 21 years and almost 40,000 generations later the experiment continues. The research has been supported by the National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.