August 30, 2007


Fruit fly parasite's gene invasion raises questions over evolution (Alok Jha, August 31 2007, The Guardian)

Scientists have found the genes of an organism fused wholesale into the genome of an entirely separate species, raising new questions over how evolution works. The discovery suggests that simple bacteria and animals might swap entire genes more often than previously thought. Such large-scale transfer of genes would allow species to acquire entirely new functions and abilities in a very short space of time, rather than the much slower sequence of random mutations that normally evolves species over several generations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 30, 2007 7:29 PM

Aha! Punctuated equilibrium is explained.

Seriously though, Darwin is deniable. It's a theory of life for Industrial Revolution types. His proponents still do not appreciate that the science of genetics is more complex than Darwin ever could have imagined. And to think genetics began with a Catholic priest. Oh, the humanity. Someday Darwin will be right up there with that other Englishman Dalton, the phlogiston guy. He had some insights, but on the whole he was off the mark.

If someone comes up with scientific proof that IAMWHOAM (and that's all that I am. toot toot.) said, "BE!" and it was, all of this contention will come to an end, except for the odd revisionist, rooting for the aggressive simplicity of Chas's vision. That proof is nowhere on the horizon, though.

To believe in God without fear and without being moronic, one can follow the advance of science as though it were a rose unfolding. It's a beautiful, mysterious thing. How the rose and life in general came to its current moment may not be understood in its totality. But we'll keep believing and examining. We are constituted that way, holding two entirely contradictory viewpoints simultaneously. We're not mad to do so. That's who we are.

And I feel fine about that.

Posted by: Ed Bush at August 31, 2007 12:54 AM

I guess there's no escaping the evolution posts. But at least the Yankee sweep and takeover of the wild card lead has stopped Orrin's comments on baseball...for a couple days.

Posted by: Casey Abell at August 31, 2007 7:14 AM

They're at the baseball blog, but the AL East is over.

Posted by: oj at August 31, 2007 10:23 AM

Random mutation has always been the statistically weak link in Darwinian theory. For those interested, I recommend the book Acquiring Genomes: The Theory of the Origins of the Species:

A challenger of the orthodox "neo-Darwinist" interpretation of evolution, microbiologist Margulis has made her professional mark touting an alternative: symbiogenesis. ... Essentially, the debate between neo-Darwinists and Margulis hinges on the definition of a species, and the manner in which a new one appears. To Margulis and Sagan, the neo-Darwinist model, which asserts random gene mutation as the source of inherited variations, is "wildly overemphasized," and to support their view, they delve deeply into the world of microbes. ... Surprisingly, the upshot of Margulis' theories is the rehabilitation of Jean Baptiste de Lamarck, whose theory that supposedly acquired traits are hereditary has been ridiculed for 150 years. Polemical and provocative, Margulis and Sagan's work should set many to thinking that evolution has not yet been completely figured out.

Of course, this just makes the origins question even more critical. If Neo-Darwinianism is insufficient to account for species diversity when the genetic building blocks are already present, how can it account for their origin?

Posted by: jd watson at August 31, 2007 1:24 PM