Can macro evolution be replicated in a lab?

One lingering question I have about evolution is the possibility to replicate macro evolution in a lab setting. While micro evolution is observable everywhere, macro evolution is what confused me. If we believe that all the variety of species of animals came from other species and they all evolved naturally thru some mechanics of DNA mutation etc, then we would expect that today with our advance science, we should be able to replicate the process (at least to evolve one species to another functioning different species). I am not sure whether this has been done so far. So, for those who know, please enlighten me with the current science progress.

The attempted hard distinction between ‘micro’ and ‘macro’ evolution is one that doesn’t hold up under examination. And I think you are correct that what skeptics want to identify as the ‘macro’ sort isn’t going to be replicable (at least for large organisms that don’t reproduce as rapidly as microorganisms do) since large changes take place incrementally over many, many generations over longer scales of time than a human life time.

It’s sort of like saying, “yes - it’s possible to go up, because we can observe people jumping and walking upstairs or even maybe hiking up a mountain; but no one can ever get from earth all the way up to space because that much ‘going up’ would just be impossible, and we never directly observe anybody actually accomplishing such a large rise.” On inspection one quickly discovers that there is no hard limit imposed on how much small change is allowed to add up toward bigger change, and the larger change always takes more time - especially in the case of evolution. If one could somehow make a large-scale morphological change in a laboratory, it would have little bearing on understanding evolution since that isn’t how evolution happens.


But at least it can be shown to happen though thru different process from evolution. Some people (like Hugh Ross) if I am not mistaken don’t see macro evolution as possible.

There are a number of serious challenges to realizing this experiment. One is developing a lab and equipment that will hold up long enough for the accumulation of micro-evolutionary changes to result in something identifiable as the result of macro-evolution. Then there are staffing challenges. And don’t forget funding.

Macro-evolution isn’t some sort of rocket-fueled jump from one species to another. It’s the result an accumulation of changes that eventually evidence themselves best, when various related species are contrasted.

The processes of mutations continue as long as there is reproduction that depends on cell division. Or until a species is extinct.

I think you’re right about that. Their objections stem from ideological objections to its implications rather than from following scientific evidence - which is why they seem committed, tooth and nail, to maintaining a distinction. They’ve become convinced that evolution on a small scale happens, but they also still remain convinced that accepting it on large enough scales so as to explain human life - that would (in their minds) fatally disrupt their theologies of creation. Hence the importance (to them) of that almighty distinction.

Perhaps (if your hypothetical ever comes true - which I would bet it never will). But even if it did, it would still have no bearing on what the evidence shows as having actually happened.


We’ve had labs for 350 years. We just need to stick around in the Earthlab for ten thousand times that.


Could evolution be observed in a lab until one species changes into another species? Sure. But no one is probably ever going to do it because of the ridiculous amount of time and resources it would take to verify something we already know to be true. As mentioned, evolution is evolution. The same evolution in adaptation is the same evolution is new species and families. Microevolution is a term used mostly to refer to the evolution in microbiology. Only certain groups like YEC try to make it mean adaptation within a species and so on. If someone truly understands “ micro evolution “ they should also under macroevolution. Just like if you understand why a human is a mammal then you should also understand why we are primates and animals.

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Of course, in plant breeding, we have new varieties produced all the time that are well along the way to becoming new species. The grapefruit you eat today is a lot different than the parent plant. And the broccoli you have at lunch was and cabbage in your cole slaw derive from the same wild mustard. Again, not fully a different species, but getting there. These Common Vegetables Are Actually All the Same Plant


The first thing we would need is an objective definition of macroevolution. In my experience, those who claim macroevolution can not occur don’t have an objective (i.e. testable) definition for macroevolution. This results in a situation where no matter what is shown to them they will deny it is macroevolution. It’s kind of like Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown:

You should also keep in mind that it is rather difficult to run an experiment in a lab where the results require millions of years of evolution within a population of millions of individual organisms.

More importantly, these experiments have already been done for us in nature. The results of the experiments are found in the genomes of living species, the fossils we find in the ground, and the diversity of life we see today. We can predict what we should see in nature if life evolved, and then use these results to test our predictions.


Some people don’t see how it is possible that the Earth is round, and yet it is. Believing something is impossible and demonstrating that something is impossible are two very different things.


Here is a thought experiment for the thread.

First, we need to define a few basic conditions.

  1. The physical differences between species is due to the different DNA sequences in their genomes.

  2. Mutations are heritable changes to the DNA sequence of a genome.

  3. It would require macroevolution to produce the physical differences between chimps and humans.

So what do we see when we compare the genomes of humans and chimps? We see about a 96% similarity when we include insertions and deletions of DNA in each lineage. There is even more similarity in regions of the genome that contain functional DNA, especially in coding regions.

So let’s imagine a 2,000 base pair coding region for a protein. These regions usually differ by 1-2% between humans and chimps, so let’s go with 2% even though it is on the high end. For a 2,000 base pair gene that would be 40 differences that separate the two genes. For simplicity, let’s say that half of those mutations happened in the chimp lineage and half in the human lineage. So we are looking at 20 mutations in the human lineage.

Let’s start with genome of the proposed common ancestor of chimps and humans. Over 5 or more million years we would need to add 20 mutations to that gene. So let’s add one mutation. Is that macroevolution?

Let’s add another mutation. We now have 2 mutations. Is that macroevolution?

Let’s keep going, adding one mutation after another. At what point is it macroevolution? At 10 mutations? 15? 5?

At what point can evolution no longer add another mutation, and why?


I’m sure we could set up a whole planet as an evolution lab. Yes, let’s do that.

Maybe because they (OEC) do not see the evidence in the fossil records as convincing enough as an evidence for macroevolution.

Tell me if I am wrong about this since I am not the expert here. We do have an incomplete fossil records in our finding at the moment, correct?

OEC sees this incomplete evidence as not convincing as macroevolution and so believe God creatively involved in forming & creating separate species.

EC (biologos) sees this incomplete evidence as part of the larger evidence to be found as macroevolution and so believe God can use evolution (micro & macro) as part of His plan as we see today.

I know you’ve gotten a lot of responses to this already, but here’s one more, fwiw. Here’s what that would look like:

  1. The difference between one species and another is a lot of genetic changes. As others have said, the exact goal posts are subject to movement, including Lucy-with-the-football style movement, so let’s just define it for now as “A Lot” of individual genetic changes.
  2. Current science is actually pretty bad at knowing what effect any given genetic change would have on the organism. There’s some (not most, not even half) DNA sequences where we know - roughly - what they do, but even things we think we understand often turn out to have unpredicted effects when interacting with all the rest of biology. This means that human science can’t actually do much better than the “guess and check” method, which requires modifying an embryo in a small way (or at best a few small ways) and then seeing how it grows up, and then trying either the same or different modifications for the next generation.
  3. The more you modify an organism, the more you need to fine-tune all sorts of other genetic stuff to keep pace with the changes. In order to grow an elephant from something the size of a hyrax, you need to not just make it bigger but make its legs sturdier, make its heart able to handle pumping that much more blood, and a thousand other things. Chihuahuas and Great Danes are pushing the limits of how much the dog species can be modified in the time we’ve had to selectively breed them; try to go much bigger or smaller and you run into (more) serious health problems. As it is, neither Chihuahuas nor Great Danes would be particularly competitive if they had to survive in the wild without humans, compared to other animals. (However, if we gave it half a million years or so for the rest of their genomes to adapt, it would probably then be entirely possible to breed either much larger or much smaller size dogs out of these Chihuahua or Great Dane populations.)
  4. Can a lab speed that up? Well to do so, it’d need a ton of animals, enough time and space and food for them all to grow up in while scientists observed carefully which ones did best, and then enough generations that the scientists could build on the positive results of the initial generations. So, pretty much like what dog breeders do, or like what natural selection does, except…in a lab. The lab might be equipped to do genetic testing and/or genetic modifications, but it won’t fundamentally speed up the process that much. Maybe a little, but…when you consider that Earth had entire oceans full of microbial life for about a billion years before multicellular life got going…
  5. No, it turns out we can’t yet grow something dramatically and indisputably different from what we started with in a lab. Given a thousand years, sure, probably. They’re doing really interesting things currently with seeing if they can modify elephant DNA to incorporate mammoth DNA and characteristics - that’s a little ahead of what cutting-edge science can actually do right now, especially the bit about the artificial wombs (if we had workable artificial womb technology we’d be using it for a lot of other things first before we used it for mammoth hybrids) but it’s something we could see in the next few decades, and it gives you a pretty decent idea of what a lab can and can’t do, realistically.

So that’s the long answer to your question, best as I can say. The short answer is that if you consider the definition of a different species to be anything that can only breed with itself and not the original species it derived from, it’s actually not too hard to make one in a lab. And yet, somehow nothing’s ever been good enough to count as “macroevolution,” however that’s defined. :wink:


Or, maybe, no amount of fossil evidence would convince them.

If their only defense is that they need complete knowledge of the entire universe before they can draw conclusions then I don’t think they are committed to a fair discussion of the evidence. We don’t need to have a fossil for every species that has ever existed before we can positively point to numerous transitional fossils.

We see the evidence. Period. The evidence is thousands and thousands of fossils that fall into the predicted pattern of a nested hierarchy. All of the fossil evidence we have is consistent with evolution.



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A bit long, but worth the read. A perfect analogy for the current discussion:


It might be worth noting that while speciation (which is a common threshold for evolution to be considered macroevolution) requires many generations in animals, it can occur in a single generation in plants and can therefore be readily observed. Plants get no respect.


If “macro” evolution could be replicated in a lab, that would provide a good argument that God did not have anything to do with the creation of life on this planet. Why believe a God had anything to do with it when we can do it faster and better than He did?


Hi Randy, I do have a great respect for Hugh Ross and also Gerald Schoeder. These two are scientist themselves. to say that they did not use reason is a bit off since they seem to know what they were talking about.

This is what I got from his interview with ICR :

When we examine the fossil record, we see a growing proliferation of life forms through time. Though biologists describe various species as “transitional,” we still find no evidence for one life form transforming itself into a distinctly different life form. A species suddenly appears, exists for a relatively long period of time with no significant changes, goes extinct, and much later is replaced with one or more distinctly different species. In the animal kingdom, at least, no evidence for any natural process or means of replacement exists. Likewise, in the Bible, God declares, that for the higher animals He directly intervenes in the natural order to create new species, and that these new life forms reproduce “after their kind.” In the book of Psalms, God speaks of His creating life forms to replace those that have died off.

Perhaps a conversation will be helpful between these 2 camps of scientists. OEC & EC. A category of evidence that can be described as conclusive or inconclusive of macroevolution toward one camp or the other.

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