Jason Pickles just sent me a great article on a series of experiments involving two lab-created strains of self-replicating RNA competing for five types of food resources and as a result evolving to use different resources and different competition strategies. Remember, creationists and evolution deniers, this differs from adaptation greatly. These RNA strands are little more than a sequence of chemicals that happen to catalyze differently from one another, much the same as how DNA works, only writ small. This sequence of chemicals is in effect a code of sorts, however its code only provides the basest building blocks for self-replication via each link bonding with a specific “food particle”, these being components in its own code. At this scale, RNA, the precursor to DNA, is merely a runaway chain reaction. Since the “RNA World” abiogenesis theory seems most likely in my mind, it helps to think of all life as one long chain reaction, wherein life takes nutrients and energy from the environment and converts them as it sees fit to survive, grow and reproduce. (So to those of you that are vegetarian, if you’re consuming ANY biomass whatsoever, then you’re eating your cousin in munching on a carrot just as much as someone eating a rabbit.)
Adaptation implies that an extant life form, within the span of its life, changes its strategy to account for conditions around it. Evolution involves each successive generation doing something slightly differently by virtue of being “coded” differently, due to RNA transcription errors. Because the process of catalyzing happens imperfectly, like getting a scribe to copy texts for you, each successive generation has a chance of being coded to do things differently, and therefore evolve toward a particular endpoint, if the errors in transcription accidentally confer an ability or featureset that causes this individual to somehow be able to pass on its genetic structure to the next successive generation. Nothing really “drives” this evolution to happen in such a way that each “best-fit” individual is given a higher chance of surviving — individuals with beneficial mutations can and do die before getting the chance to pass on those genes. Speciation on the RNA scale happens when groups of individuals gain enough changes that they can no longer be considered part of the same species as other groups within the population. This is as opposed to, on the macro scale, speciation being defined as when two entities can no longer procreate and produce a non-sterile offspring. Because at the RNA scale everything is merely a chemical reaction between naturally occurring amino acids, it’s really difficult to determine what’s a “species” in a given population until you start to look at the individual’s survival tactics as a whole.
You’d think this would be a nail in the anti-evolutionist’s coffin, but sadly, it won’t be. They will ignore this and pretend it didn’t happen, claiming repeatedly that evolution has never happened in a lab, I guess because one has never observed a dog giving birth to a cat or a goldfish growing legs and stepping out of its bowl in realtime. Or worse, they will say this was a one-time fluke and can’t be duplicated (pro-tip: it’s not).