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Richard Lenski

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Richard Eimer Lenski
Richard Lenski with Long-Term Flasks and Incubator on May 26, 2016
Born (1956-08-13) August 13, 1956 (age 67)
Alma materUniversity of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Oberlin College
Known forE. coli long-term evolution experiment
AwardsNCSE Friend of Darwin Award (2017)[1]
Sewall Wright Award (2012)
MacArthur Fellowship (1996)
Guggenheim Fellowship (1991)[2]
Scientific career
FieldsEvolutionary biology Experimental evolution
InstitutionsMichigan State University
University of California, Irvine
ThesisEffects of competition and disturbance on ground beetle populations (1982)
Doctoral advisorNelson Hairston
Other academic advisorsBruce Levin (Postdoctoral Mentor)
Doctoral studentsPaul E. Turner
Zachary Blount
Websitelenski.mmg.msu.edu telliamedrevisited.wordpress.com

Richard Eimer Lenski (born August 13, 1956) is an American evolutionary biologist,[3] a Hannah Distinguished Professor of Microbial Ecology, Genetics and Evolution, and Evolution of Pathogen Virulence at Michigan State University. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a MacArthur Fellow. Lenski is best known for his still ongoing 36-year-old long-term E. coli evolution experiment, which has been instrumental in understanding the core processes of evolution, including mutation rates,[4] clonal interference,[5] antibiotic resistance,[6] the evolution of novel traits,[7] and speciation.[8] He is also well known for his pioneering work in studying evolution digitally using self-replicating organisms called Avida.

Early life


Richard E. Lenski is the son of sociologist Gerhard Lenski and poet Jean Lenski (née Cappelmann).[9] He is also the great-nephew of children's author Lois Lenski and the great-grandson of Lutheran commentator Richard C. H. Lenski. He earned his BA from Oberlin College in 1976, and his PhD from the University of North Carolina in 1982.[10]



Lenski won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1991 and a MacArthur Fellowship in 1996, and in 2006 he was elected to the United States National Academy of Sciences.[11]

Lenski is a fellow at the American Academy of Microbiology and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and holds the office Hannah Distinguished Professor of microbial ecology at Michigan State University.[citation needed]

On February 17, 2010, he co-founded the NSF Science and Technology Center for the Study of Evolution in Action, known as the BEACON Center.[1]

He was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 2018.[12]

Lenski was the recipient of the 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for the Study of Evolution.[13]

E. coli experiment

The 12 evolving E. coli populations on June 25, 2008

The E. coli long-term evolution experiment is an ongoing study in experimental evolution led by Richard Lenski that has been tracking genetic changes in 12 initially identical populations of asexual Escherichia coli bacteria since 24 February 1988.[14] The populations reached the milestone of 75,000 generations in 2022.[15]

Since the experiment's inception, Lenski and his colleagues have reported a wide array of genetic changes; some evolutionary adaptations have occurred in all 12 populations, while others have only appeared in one or a few populations. One particularly striking adaptation was the evolution of a strain of E. coli that was able to use citrate as a carbon source in an aerobic environment.[16] A defining characteristic of E. coli is its inability to use citrate as an energy source under oxic conditions.[17]

Avida simulation


Richard Lenski, Charles Ofria, et al. at Michigan State University developed an artificial life computer program with the ability to detail the evolution of complex systems. The system uses values set to determine random mutations and allows for the effect of natural selection to conserve beneficial traits. The program was dubbed Avida and starts with an artificial petri dish where organisms reproduce and perform mathematical calculations to acquire rewards of more computer time for replication. The program randomly adds mutations to copies of the artificial organisms to allow for natural selection. As the artificial life reproduced, different lines adapted and evolved depending on their set environments. The beneficial side to the program is that it parallels that of real life at rapid speeds.[18][19][20][21]



In August 2013, having been inspired by a presentation by Titus Brown on the role of social media in science, Lenski began blogging at Telliamed Revisited and tweeting as @RELenski.[22]

Lenski's research has received considerable attention, including lengthy discussion in Carl Zimmer's book on E. coli, Microcosm, and in Richard Dawkins' book on the evidence for evolution, The Greatest Show on Earth. Included in Dawkins' discussion was a description of the dialog Lenski had in 2008 with Andrew Schlafly, creator of Conservapedia, which Schlafly initiated as a reaction to reports of Lenski's description of the evolution of aerobic citrate usage in one of the long-term evolution experiment populations. These same findings were later cited by the creationist Ken Ham in a debate over evolution with Bill Nye. Lenski strongly criticized Ham's citation of his work and the conclusions Ham drew from it.[23]


  1. ^ a b "MSU's Richard Lenski wins 2017 Friend of Darwin award".
  2. ^ "John Simon Guggenheim Foundation | Richard E. Lenski".
  3. ^ "Richard Lenski". Michigan State University. 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-17.
  4. ^ Tenaillon, Olivier; Barrick, Jeffrey E.; Ribeck, Noah; Deatherage, Daniel E.; Blanchard, Jeffrey L.; Dasgupta, Aurko; Wu, Gabriel C.; Wielgoss, Sébastien; Cruveiller, Stéphane (2016-08-11). "Tempo and mode of genome evolution in a 50,000-generation experiment". Nature. 536 (7615): 165–170. Bibcode:2016Natur.536..165T. doi:10.1038/nature18959. ISSN 0028-0836. PMC 4988878. PMID 27479321.
  5. ^ Maddamsetti, Rohan; Lenski, Richard E.; Barrick, Jeffrey E. (2015-06-01). "Adaptation, Clonal Interference, and Frequency-Dependent Interactions in a Long-Term Evolution Experiment with Escherichia coli". Genetics. 200 (2): 619–631. doi:10.1534/genetics.115.176677. ISSN 0016-6731. PMC 4492384. PMID 25911659.
  6. ^ Lenski, R. E. (1998-12-01). "Bacterial evolution and the cost of antibiotic resistance". International Microbiology. 1 (4): 265–270. ISSN 1139-6709. PMID 10943373.
  7. ^ Blount, Zachary D.; Borland, Christina Z.; Lenski, Richard E. (2008-06-10). "Historical contingency and the evolution of a key innovation in an experimental population of Escherichia coli". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 105 (23): 7899–7906. Bibcode:2008PNAS..105.7899B. doi:10.1073/pnas.0803151105. ISSN 0027-8424. PMC 2430337. PMID 18524956.
  8. ^ Meyer, Justin R.; Dobias, Devin T.; Medina, Sarah J.; Servilio, Lisa; Gupta, Animesh; Lenski, Richard E. (2016-11-24). "Ecological speciation of bacteriophage lambda in allopatry and sympatry". Science. 354 (6317): 1301–1304. Bibcode:2016Sci...354.1301M. doi:10.1126/science.aai8446. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 27884940.
  9. ^ Richard Lenski [@relenski] (August 17, 2014). "Photo of Richard Lenski and Gerhard Lenski for the father's 90th birthday" (Tweet). Retrieved August 18, 2014 – via Twitter.
  10. ^ Campbell, Neil A.; Reece, Jane B. (2005). Biology (7 ed.). Pearson, Benjamin Cummings. pp. 538–539. ISBN 978-0-8053-7146-8.
  11. ^ United States National Academy of Sciences member list, "Member directory", Richard E. Lenski , 2006
  12. ^ "Election of New Members at the 2018 Spring Meeting".
  13. ^ "Society for the Study of Evolution". www.evolutionsociety.org. Retrieved 2021-07-04.
  14. ^ Lenski, Richard E. (2000). "Source of founding strain". Richard E. Lenski Homepage. Michigan State University. Archived from the original on 2018-05-31. Retrieved 2008-06-18.
  15. ^ Lenski, Richard (February 15, 2023). "Revisiting the Design of the Long-Term Evolution Experiment with Escherichia coli". Journal of Molecular Evolution. 91 (1): 241–253. Bibcode:2023JMolE..91..241L. doi:10.1007/s00239-023-10095-3. PMID 36790511. S2CID 256869639.
  16. ^ Blount, Zachary D.; Borland, Christina Z.; Lenski, Richard E. (2008). "Historical contingency and the evolution of a key innovation in an experimental population of Escherichia coli". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 105 (23): 7899–906. Bibcode:2008PNAS..105.7899B. doi:10.1073/pnas.0803151105. JSTOR 25462703. PMC 2430337. PMID 18524956.
  17. ^ Blount, Zachary; Borland, Christina; Lenski, Richard (June 10, 2008). "Historical contingency and the evolution of a key innovation in an experimental population of Escherichia coli". PNAS. 105 (23): 7899–7906. Bibcode:2008PNAS..105.7899B. doi:10.1073/pnas.0803151105. PMC 2430337. PMID 18524956.
  18. ^ Lenski, R. E.; Ofria, C.; Pennock, R. T.; Adami, C. (2003). "The evolutionary origin of complex features" (PDF). Nature. 423 (6936): 139–144. Bibcode:2003Natur.423..139L. doi:10.1038/nature01568. PMID 12736677. S2CID 4401833. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2021-01-21. Retrieved 2013-08-20.
  19. ^ "Digital organisms used to confirm evolutionary process". American Association for the Advancement of Science. Retrieved 2011-03-21.
  20. ^ "Artificial life experiments show how complex functions can evolve". American Association for the Advancement of Science. Retrieved 2011-03-21.
  21. ^ Richard E. Lenski; Charles Ofria; Claus O. Wilke; Jia Lan Wang & Christoph Adami (2001-07-19). "Evolution of digital organisms at high mutation rates leads to survival of the flattest" (PDF). Nature. 412 (6844): 331–3. Bibcode:2001Natur.412..331W. doi:10.1038/35085569. PMID 11460163. S2CID 1482925.
  22. ^ Richard Lenski (August 19, 2013). "Welcome to Telliamed Revisited".
  23. ^ https://telliamedrevisited.wordpress.com/2014/02/05/ham-on-nye-debate-follow-up-1/, https://telliamedrevisited.wordpress.com/2014/02/06/ham-on-nye-debate-follow-up-2/, https://telliamedrevisited.wordpress.com/2014/02/07/zachary-blount-on-ham-on-nye-debate-follow-up-3/