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Evolution before our eyes

Documentary video
7mn 49s



Viruses can evolve fast and sometimes adapt quickly to a new host species. For example, an influenza virus that normally infects birds can become adapted to humans. The tobacco etch virus normally infects tobacco plants. Professor Santiago Elena from Valencia wants to find out what it takes to make the tobacco virus capable of infecting another plant: Arabidopsis. The movie shows how Santiago Elena does the evolutionary experiment and we see that after 30 rounds of experimental evolution the virus is indeed adapted to the new host plant! After the experiment, Elena looks at the genetic code of the adapted virus and finds that there are just three differences between the genetic code of the normal (tobacco loving) virus and the virus that is now adapted to Arabidopsis.

Winner at "Vedere la Scienza Festival 2010" (category: Educational videos for the web).
Finalist at the "European Science TV and New Media Festival 2010".


Directors:  Robert Sigl, Bernhard Rübe & Pleuni Pennings - Script & editing: Brant Backlund - Camera operator: Bernhard Rübe - Graphics: Simon Baker, James Doyle & Jacob Barrow - Equipment Manager: Robert Sigl - Narration: Francine Oliver - Narration Producer: Chris Kugelman - Music: Chris Tegg - Production Manager: Marion Hartl - Production Assistant: Kaitlin Hickey - Producer: Brant Backlund - Executive Producer: Pleuni Pennings - Production: LMU Munich (2009)

Scientific expert

Santiago Elena

Santiago Elena

Instituto de Biología Molecular y Celular de Plantas, Evolutionary Systems Virology Group, Spain
Evolutionary Virology

«To design working antiviral strategies, we need to understand how new viruses appear and what principles govern their diversification and adaptation to hosts. Also, viruses allow us to witness evolution in real time and to test fundamental principles of the evolutionary theory.»


Canopé Ludwig Maximilians Universität München Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique Westfälische Wilhelms Universität Münster