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Rights: The University of Waikato
Published 5 December 2008
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Evolution is a result of changes in genes that make up an organism. Directed evolution in the lab focuses on a single gene, making a large number of random variants of this gene and thus speeding up the whole process.

Transcript

David Ackerley (Victoria University, Wellington): The difference between directed evolution in a lab context and evolution whcih takes millions of years to evolve in nature is that, really, what we are doing is we’re focusing on just a single gene – not the thousands upon thousands of genes, which make up you or I.

And what that means is that, if we just sprinkled you with mutagenic agents, then there would be a wide variety of nasty consequences, because basically we would be trying to change so many things at once, and most of them would be deleterious and very few would be beneficial, but if you can actually take one single gene of interest outside of that enormously complicated environment of the cell, then you can sprinkle mutations willy-nilly into just that single gene without affecting the way the cell functions. Then if you can put that gene back into the cell, you can screen for improvements, which have arisen as a consequence of just that one single gene that you’ve changed.

So it’s the ability to basically focus all of the enormous power of evolution that's developed over billions of years just on one single gene at one single time that enables you to get very, very rapid changes.