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  In biology, the concept of adaptation (from Latin ad, ‘towards’ + aptus, ‘fitting’) refers to the process by which an organism increases its fitness to its environment, or to the change which increases this fitness. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the observation that organisms were so perfectly suited to life in their natural environment was frequently taken as evidence for the existence of a creator. The theologian William Paley argued, in his work Natural Theology (1802), that if a man were to find a watch on a deserted beach, he would naturally assume that such an intricate mechanism had a maker; Paley said that the existence of living creatures was, in the same way, evidence for the existence of God. Charles Darwin suggested instead that living organisms were not perfectly designed but were merely attempting to survive in a rapidly changing environment.

Adaptation is the process by which a species is modified, by natural selection, to fit an ecological niche. All living organisms are subject to natural selection, and as the environment is not stable, all species must be in a state of dynamic equilibrium caused by continuous pressure to adapt and become more competitive. All the inherited characteristics of a living organism are subject to this adaptation. If, for example, bacteria are grown in the laboratory in the presence of sub-lethal but inhibitory concentrations of an antibiotic, the organisms can be induced to undergo adaptation to produce individuals which are resistant to the effects of the antibiotic, and are thus more competitive than their predecessors. RB

See also adaptive radiation; Darwinism; evolution.Further reading Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene; The Blind Watchmaker.



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Adaptive Radiation


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