Can we predict evolution?

It is about time that evolutionary biology develops into a predictive science. It would also be interesting if we could steer evolution. Much has already been achieved in the field of short-term predictions, but great challenges force us to look to the long term.

Can we predict evolution?

[Funded by the Origins Center]

Evolutionary biology can play an important role in solving some of the major challenges mankind faces today, such as: the development of bacterial resistance, resistance to pesticides, outbreaks of new diseases, and the adaptation of species to urbanisation and climate change. It can also help to promote biodiversity.

Researchers are therefore working on predicting the evolution of multicellular life through experimental evolution with small worms – nematodes – at multiple universities. The nematodes are presented with an environmental change they must cope with. Researchers aim to predict the possible evolutionary paths the nematodes can take in the experiment. Subsequently, the evolution experiments are run multiple times to observe whether the nematodes take the same evolutionary trajectories under the same conditions.

This project brings together theoretical and experimental scientists. Researchers working on digital and robotic evolution are also involved. Together they explore ways to predict evolution from the very beginning.

Project team

The project is a joint effort of a large number of research groups in the Netherlands and Belgium. The evolution experiment is carried out within the research groups of Astrid Groot (University of Amsterdam), Jacintha Ellers (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam), Marcel Visser and Steven Declerck (NIOO-KNAW), Maurijn van der Zee (Leiden University), Rampal Etienne and Marjon de Vos (University of Groningen), Jan Kammenga (Wageningen University & Research) and Dries Bonte (Ghent University). Principal investigators are Karen Bisschop and Thomas Blankers (previously Meike Wortel and Ken Kraaijeveld) and project technician is Janine Mariën.

Origins Center Projects


Karen Bisschop

University of Amsterdam, Origins Center

Karen Bisschop

University of Amsterdam, Origins Center



Fields of interest:

The common thread of my research is the impact of the spatial and community context on adaptation. I performed evolutionary experiments with an arthropod herbivore species (Tetranychus urticae) to test its adaptation to novel host plants under different conditions. I am also intrigued by the microbiota living inside multicellular hosts and this led me to perform both field and lab work to further investigate correlations between hosts, their diet and microbiome, and how these are affected by environmental factors. Currently, I am involved in the 'Predicting Evolution' project to test how robust and predictable evolutionary results are across different institutes in The Netherlands and Belgium using Caenorhabditis elegans as a model species.

evolutionary biology, ecology, experimental evolution


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