Double Your Ark Encounter Donation Impact

Helpful Parasites?

on May 5, 2007

LiveScience: “Parasites Evolve from Bad to Good

Charles Q. Choi, writing for LiveScience, describes the “surprisingly rapid” evolution many parasites exhibit that causes them “to become helpful instead of harmful.” In particular, Choi reviews research evolutionary biologist Andrew Wells and colleagues at the University of Melbourne have conducted into Wolbachia, a microbial parasite that—the team discovered—actually aids its host by boosting its host’s fertility.

Wolbachia, a microbial parasite that actually aids its host by boosting its host’s fertility.

Wells’s theory is that, while parasites are traditionally thought as disabling their hosts’ survivability (as Wolbachia can do), parasites can also benefit from boosting their hosts’ rates of reproduction and, thus, improving their own chances of spreading to new hosts:

[I]ntuition suggests that in order to prosper, these microbes should try and evolve ways to crank up the number of offspring that their hosts birth in order to infect more victims.

“We had a very thorough theoretical analysis which suggested that this could and should evolve, but we had no idea of the timeframe that this might take,” Weeks said.

During the 20 years that Wolbachia’s effects have been studied, its effects have dramatically shifted from a 20% reduction in host fertility to a 10% boost.

In other words, Wells et al. expected Wolbachia may eventually evolve from a detrimental parasite to a beneficial symbiont, but, per evolutionary preconceptions, thought this transformation would occur over a long timetable (thousands or millions of years). Imagine the team’s surprise after discovering that, during the 20 years that Wolbachia’s effects have been studied, its effects have dramatically shifted from a 20% reduction in host fertility to a 10% boost.

“We just didn't expect it to happen so quickly,” Weeks told LiveScience. […] Such a dramatic evolutionary change is traditionally thought to take place over thousands to millions of years, and not in just two decades, “although it is becoming clearer that evolution does work on such short time scales,” Weeks said.

Chalk this up as yet another example of rapid “evolution”—the sort that not only goes against traditional evolutionary thought, but also supports the idea of rapid post-Fall and post-Flood speciation that explains the diversity of animal species existing today that have descended from the original created kinds.

Also, although Wells and his team are “uncertain how exactly Wolbachia triggers such fertility,” we are confident Wolbachia’s ability (and, hence, its “evolution”) is not the result of information-gaining mutations, but instead the result of natural selection sustaining the existing, successful Wolbachia genomes that already contain the genetic information to boost host fertility.

Remember, if you see a news story that might merit some attention, let us know about it! (Note: if the story originates from the Associated Press, Fox News, MSNBC, the New York Times, or another major national media outlet, we will most likely have already heard about it.) And thanks to all of our readers who have submitted great news tips to us.

(Please note that links will take you directly to the source. Answers in Genesis is not responsible for content on the websites to which we refer. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.)


Get the latest answers emailed to you or sign up for our free print newsletter.

See All Lists

Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Learn more

  • Customer Service 800.778.3390