1147: Evolving

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Revision as of 15:33, 17 December 2012 by Shine (Talk | contribs)

Jump to: navigation, search
Biologists play reverse Pokémon, trying to avoid putting any one team member on the front lines long enough for the experience to cause evolution.
Title text: Biologists play reverse Pokémon, trying to avoid putting any one team member on the front lines long enough for the experience to cause evolution.


In Pokémon, a highly popular game series, the protagonist goes out in search for the eponymous creatures. Many Pokémon can be found directly in the wild, but there are also a lot of Pokémon that require training and growth, to cause them to "evolve" into new Pokémon. "Evolve", the game's term, is a misnomer which earned itself quite some controversy in the past; in reality, Pokémon "evolution" is more akin to puberty or metamorphosis, since, instead of the entire species of Pokémon acquiring changes throughout an extended period of time, one specific member of the species grows instantly to the "higher stage." At that point in the game, the Pokémon glows before transforming into the new form, then stops glowing, and the very same text "What? Xxx is evolving!" is used (see this video or those screenshots for instance). The changes of such a transformation can be quite dramatic... or not.

This comic depicts the "evolution" of bacteria as observed by a Biologist in the same format as the game Pokémon. Here we have Staphylococcus aureus, which is not a desirable bacterium (it causes Staph infections) which evolves into "Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus". Methicillin is an anti-biotic. If the bacteria becomes resistant, it means the anti-biotic will not kill the bacteria, and infections become harder to treat. Thus, the observer is not pleased with such an evolution.

The title text references this by suggesting that biologists do NOT want bacteria to evolve in this way, as opposed to Pokémon where you put a Pokémon on the "front lines" as much as possible to gain it experience and hope it evolves. [A point of irony is that Pokémon evolution can be prevented (by using an Everstone) or stopped (by pressing the B button in the game controller during evolution) most of the time, especially if there are Pokémon that someone does not want to evolve.] The bit about the front lines is that, if a bacteria colony is exposed sufficiently to an antibiotic, those bacteria with any level of resistance to the antibiotic are less likely to be killed by the antibiotic, and are able to reproduce in spite of the antibiotic. Most future generations of bacteria now have this level of resistance instead of just a small subset. This makes the likelihood of future more resistant and harder to treat mutations even more likely.

Staphylococcus aureus is a very common bacteria (that under an electron microscope looks like the xkcd drawing) and is the major cause of staph infections (there are other types of staph bacteria), frequently found in the nostrils and skin. Hospitals are often plagued with outbreaks of methicillin-resistant staph aureus (MRSA), which is very difficult to treat as the typical antibiotics do not work on it.


[Bacterial cell culture]
Staphylococcus aureus is evolving!
Off-screen: Aww, crap.
Staphylococcus aureus evolved into Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus!

comment.png add a comment! ⋅ comment.png add a topic (use sparingly)! ⋅ Icons-mini-action refresh blue.gif refresh comments!


Bacteria can indeed "instantly" evolve within a generation instead of waiting for its descendents. It's called horizontal gene transfer and it's the primary mechanism for the propagation of antibiotic resistance. --Prooffreader (talk) 13:07, 14 December 2012 (UTC)

Its sentences like that which make Microbiologists my heros. DanB (talk) 14:25, 14 December 2012 (UTC)

Should there be a reference to Arceus (the "ultimate creator Pokémon") here? I do not mean this for making a joke; I just thought that the coincidence can be appropriate here, since the bacteria is called "Aureus". Greyson (talk) 15:48, 14 December 2012 (UTC)

The evolved form looks the same to me. -- 07:54, 15 December 2012 (UTC)

Because the difference is internal, in antibiotic resistance --JakubNarebski (talk) 11:56, 15 December 2012 (UTC)

The first external link (to the Cephas Ministry tract) seems to be broken. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

When biologists make some sort of drug to counter this, I REALLY hope they call it "The Everstone" 12:08, 6 January 2016 (UTC) C

Actually the title text is a valid traning method in Pokemon, called switch-training.We keep a weaker 'Mon in the front, then switch out to stronger one to defeat the Opponent, gaining split Exp.So, Those Microbiologists will still have their bacteria evolving, but at a slower rate. 11:04, 1 January 2017 (UTC)

Personal tools


It seems you are using noscript, which is stopping our project wonderful ads from working. Explain xkcd uses ads to pay for bandwidth, and we manually approve all our advertisers, and our ads are restricted to unobtrusive images and slow animated GIFs. If you found this site helpful, please consider whitelisting us.

Want to advertise with us, or donate to us with Paypal?