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No. 96: Nov-Dec 1994

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Six years ago, J. Cairns performed experiments with bacteria that implied that said bacteria could "direct" their own mutations so that they could cope more speedily with sudden environmental trauma. (SF#64) In Cairns' experiments, bacteria unable to digest lactose were presented with an all-lactose diet. They quickly acquired the mutations needed to digest the only food available. They did not have to wait for random mutations to accidentally hit upon the correct genome changes.

A firestorm spread across the scientific community, even though other researchers saw similar effects. It was traumatic! One of science's foundation stones was at risk. The current theory of biological evolution insists that all mutations are random. Cairns believed he had shown that his bacteria experienced only useful mutations. This claim was too awful to accept.

In the July 21, 1994, issue of Science, two new papers appeared that, while not proving that only useful mutations occur in Cairns-type experiments, do indicate that something unusual is indeed happening. Basically, when bacteria are under stress (say, starving), a "distinctive" type of mutation occurs! Is "distinctive" a code word for "non-random"? The title of the commentary accompanying the two articles says it all.

(Culotta, Elizabeth; "A Boost for 'Adaptive' Mutation," Science, 265:318, 1994.)

From Science Frontiers #96, NOV-DEC 1994. 1994-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987