Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Global warming could force rapid evolution

This post isn't directly related to business innovations, but I think Mother Nature's innovations need some blog time too.

Biologists at the University of California, Irvine have reported that a fast-growing weed, field mustard, has evolved and changed reproductive patterns over just a few generations - a period of about seven years - to adapt to global warming. This could mean a potential "evolution explosion" allowing weeds to keep up with any attempts to develop crops that could cope with global warming.

But longer-living species, like the California Redwood, would have a much harder time adapting.

The changes to the field mustard included a 16 percent acceleration of the plants' life-cycle over seven generations. Arthur Weis, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC-Irvine, offered a rough analogy to Reuters:

"...if humans evolved at the same rate as the mustard plants in the experiment, the average onset of the age of reproduction in humans would slip from 16 years to 13 1/2 in seven generations."
The study by Weis and colleagues is part of a forward-thinking project to collect and store seeds from across the continent, preserving them for study 50 years from now. The changes coming with global warming will offer an unprecedented opportunity for scientists to study evolution in a possibly accelerated environment. "Project Baseline" will preserve evidence of plants before the biggest changes are felt.

Photo credit: Moon Rhythm

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