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Darwinian Evolution Considered As a Phase

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the everything-you-know-is-wrong dept.

Science 313

LucidBeast tips a mind-bending report at New Scientist on the latest paradigm-breaking work of Carl Woese, one of whose earlier discoveries was the third branch of life on Earth, the Archaea. Woese and physicist Nigel Goldenfeld argue that, even in its sophisticated modern form, Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection applies only to a recent phase of life on Earth. Woese and Goldenfeld believe that horizontal evolution led to the rise of the genetic code itself. "At the root of this idea is overwhelming recent evidence for horizontal gene transfer — in which organisms acquire genetic material 'horizontally' from other organisms around them, rather than vertically from their parents or ancestors. The donor organisms may not even be the same species. This mechanism is already known to play a huge role in the evolution of microbial genomes, but its consequences have hardly been explored. According to Woese and Goldenfeld, they are profound, and horizontal gene transfer alters the evolutionary process itself."

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I realize scientists need a breakthrough (3, Insightful)

Blappo (976408) | more than 4 years ago | (#30911600)

I strongly suspect it isn't, nor was it ever, one type of evolution over the other, but a complex interaction between many environmental pressures where both types of evolution played a role.

Re:I realize scientists need a breakthrough (3, Interesting)

biryokumaru (822262) | more than 4 years ago | (#30911680)

Similar to the silly "nature versus nurture" debate, I think the key here is that for different critters, different types of evolution are significantly more dominant.

Here's A Tip, Folks (4, Informative)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 4 years ago | (#30911972)

Here's a tip, folks. The minute you see some science journalist use the word "paradigm", as in "paradigm shift" or "paradigm breaking" you can be quite certain that what follows will be neither.

Horizontal gene transfer has been known about for decades, and the notion that the root of the tree of life is more a tangle of interconnecting branches has pretty much been accepted for some time now. We know that particularly with prokaryotes, horizontal transfer happens, and that while more difficult with eukaryotes, can still happen (ie. endo-retroviral insertions). It is yet another facet of evolution, not some independent force.

Re:Here's A Tip, Folks (5, Insightful)

Dalambertian (963810) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912116)

Here's a protip I've learned from watching the internets and reading your first comment: The moment anyone brings to light something most people have been ignoring, there's always someone who comes along claiming that there's nothing new to see here and that anyone who doesn't know that is clearly misinformed. I'm sorry, but I've never heard of this theory before, and I daresay I'm not the only one. So, please, stop trying to take away my sense of wonder.

Sincerely, the misinformed

Re:Here's A Tip, Folks (4, Interesting)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912168)

I'm not trying to take away anyone's "sense of wonder". I'm saying that horizontal gene transfer is one known way in which variation can occur. Remember, evolution requires only that there be variation in populations. For the most part, that variation will either be in allele frequency, but sometimes is also mutational, sometimes due to neutral drift, and probably with considerably less frequency due to horizontal transfer. It ain't new, and neither is trying to make a well known phenomena sound exciting and "paradigm shifting" by announcing it to the world.

Man, but I hate science journalism.

Re:Here's A Tip, Folks (1)

Artifakt (700173) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912336)

Evolution requires that there be variation in individuals, and that there be selection.
If the selection rate is such that species organize as fuzzy sets where most individuals are typical and only a few are seriously atypical, then there can be variations within (definable) populations. If the selection rate changes enough, just how fuzzy species membership is becomes an open topic - no one is really sure just how much individuals in a species could vary without the species becoming extinct.
Mutation without selection is also possible - see stochastic mutation examples.
If this theory is organizing a bunch of the alternative cases to the classic case of evolution modeled on whole species population changes, into a cohesive set of cases with common underlying properties, then yes, it's significant. Maybe not revolutionary, but pretty damned significant.

Re:Here's A Tip, Folks (5, Informative)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912132)

Horizontal gene transfer has been known about for decades, and the notion that the root of the tree of life is more a tangle of interconnecting branches has pretty much been accepted for some time now.

Further it has nothing at all to do with Darwinism.

A mechanism of gene transfer plays no role in the "Survival of the Fittest" (a phrase coined not by Darwin, but rather by Spencer), or natural selection. Its not germane.

Natural Selection is a winnowing process, and a mutation amplifying force, but says nothing about the acquisition or dispersion of said mutations. It was never meant to.

Re:Here's A Tip, Folks (2, Interesting)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912180)

I think your confusing things here. Of course horizontal gene transfer can potential influence fitness. Evolution requires variability in traits. How exactly that variability gets there (mutation, mitosis, neutral drift, horizontal gene transfer) is the dirty details of evolution. However a trait makes it into a population, once its there, it can be fixed, and thus alter fitness.

Re:Here's A Tip, Folks (5, Informative)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912300)

I fail to see the point of confusion.

Acquisition of a trait (by whatever means) would never amount to a significant percentage of the gene pool of an organism unless it proffered some usefulness. Mutation or horizontal genetic transfer are but mere mechanisms. Darwinism discusses the overall process, not the details.

How that transfer took place is mere details. When that transfer takes place is not fixed in time. Horizontal transfer still exists in larger and more complex organisms and their symbiotic partners.

Re:I realize scientists need a breakthrough (2, Insightful)

Anachragnome (1008495) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912030)

I agree.

It always seemed a little odd that evolutionists minimized such interactions as the bacteria that lives on, and IN, us as little more then a symbiotic relationship.

The idea that some genetic material might actually be passed from ourselves to these bacteria, or the other way around, seemed to make sense. I'm not talking about large chunks of DNA, but rather a codon or two every dozen generations, or something to that effect. Given that mutations/variations are more likely to occur in two species, as opposed to one, that symbiotic relationship might have accelerated genetic changes in either, or both, species. Who knows, maybe our ability to digest some specific foodstuff (a foodstuff that we previously relied on a bacteria in our gut to help us digest/process) was derived from genetic material that originally came from a bacteria that had the ability but was passed on to us a codon at a time. Just an example.

This leads me to the question of whether or not our preoccupation with sanitization/sterilization of our own bodies might be having some detrimental effect on our EVOLUTION. Is our wiping out species, to the point of extinction, actually limiting the evolutionary process, in essence limiting variation in the exchange of genetic material?

Re:I realize scientists need a breakthrough (2, Interesting)

Thiez (1281866) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912330)

> The idea that some genetic material might actually be passed from ourselves to these bacteria, or the other way around, seemed to make sense. I'm not talking about large chunks of DNA, but rather a codon or two every dozen generations, or something to that effect. Given that mutations/variations are more likely to occur in two species, as opposed to one, that symbiotic relationship might have accelerated genetic changes in either, or both, species. Who knows, maybe our ability to digest some specific foodstuff (a foodstuff that we previously relied on a bacteria in our gut to help us digest/process) was derived from genetic material that originally came from a bacteria that had the ability but was passed on to us a codon at a time. Just an example.

You're crazy. Let's assume for the sake of argument that DNA from a bacterium will sometimes end up in a nearby human cell. Since the bacteria in your example live in your guts, they will share DNA with cells in your guts. These cells are not involved in procreation and therefore their 'mutations' will not be inherited and therefore they do not influence human evolution.

The only way to make this work (still assuming the DNA trading between human cells and bacteria is possible) would be if sperm or an egg somehow were to come in contact with bacteria from your guts. I don't think the whole 'ass-to-pussy' thing that I may or may not have accidentally stumbled upon at some point in my life while searching for, eeeeh, educative programming related articles is so widely practiced that it has a significant effect on human evolution ( except when you get a horrible infection and die :p ).

Re:I realize scientists need a breakthrough (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30912264)

All I know is the story I heard when I was still a little kid, that chlorophyll wasn't originally a part of plants.

It was somewhat like the "horizontal transfer" thingy, and got merged into the plant's genetic code.

Proven example: (5, Funny)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#30911614)

The first 2 parts of Spore are like Horizontal Evolution, and the later parts are all vertical.

It makes perfect sense. Clearly Will Wright is a genius.

Neo-Lamarkian Evolution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30911632)

This would be epigenetic, neo-Lamarkian evolution, with the inheritance of acquired traits.

Not: Larkian evolution is NOT Lysenkoian evolution.

Well duh? (3, Informative)

tzenes (904307) | more than 4 years ago | (#30911636)

For anyone familiar with the Red Queen Hypothesis ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Queen [wikipedia.org] ) this should be obvious.

While direct DNA transfer is not the component usually referred to by this "arms race," it is merely an extension of a known theory.

No one makes a big hype about this theory, because it doesn't say your grandfather was a monkey and piss off the religious nuts

Re:Well duh? (-1, Troll)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#30911670)

I can't read the article without registering but I wonder if homosexual behavior could be causing horizontal gene transfer in humans, possibly using viruses as a transport mechanism.

Re:Well duh? (1)

Toonol (1057698) | more than 4 years ago | (#30911862)

I can't read the article without registering but I wonder if homosexual behavior could be causing horizontal gene transfer in humans.

Sometimes vertical transfers, too.

Re:Well duh? (2, Insightful)

Bovius (1243040) | more than 4 years ago | (#30911872)

As opposed to heterosexual behavior? I hear the fluids transferred are remarkably similar.

Re:Well duh? (1)

jhoegl (638955) | more than 4 years ago | (#30911950)

Yeah, but one is less gay than the other.

Re:Well duh? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912104)

Agreed so lets narrow the question: could humans who engage in activities which encourage the exchange of viruses be exchanging genes at the same time?

Re:Well duh? (0)

bzdyelnik (1600135) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912340)

Yes - change "homosexual sex" to "non-procreative sex" and it's less controversial. What about just the human behavior of kissing? Perhaps it's a way of smelling each other's breath to check for disease signals, or sharing of pheromones, but I'm more inclined to think it's about virus transfer. I'd also presume that breast feeding might provide lateral transfer of beneficial genes via viruses that haven't "gone germline" yet. Viruses can also pass through the placenta to a fetus, and viruses can pass the blood-brain-barrier. It's possible that a beneficial virus could get passed around that actually changes human thought/behavior. A rabies infection makes a person hydrophobic, but rabies isn't exactly beneficial (except maybe to bats). Even more wacky - what if human rational consciousness is a function of one or many viruses that get transferred to embryos/fetuses/developing children? Perhaps over time some of those viruses have "gone germline" and are now HERVs. In that case God would not only be a viral meme, but also a molecular virus (or series of 'em) himself.

Re:Well duh? (4, Informative)

Guido von Guido (548827) | more than 4 years ago | (#30911976)

I can't read the article without registering but I wonder if homosexual behavior could be causing horizontal gene transfer in humans, possibly using viruses as a transport mechanism.

If viruses are your transport mechanism, I'm not sure you need homosexual behaviour. You may, yes, but there are plenty of other mechanisms for viruses to spread.

Re:Well duh? (1)

oldhack (1037484) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912348)

Yes, but Apple has patents on that, and you now have put your life at the risk of predatory Apple lawyers for bringing this up.

You're so screwed.

It's what's for dinner. (3, Insightful)

mrmeval (662166) | more than 4 years ago | (#30911776)

I am going to come over there and take all your stuff and I'm going to kill you and take your weapons and use them for myself!!!

If you're really nice and sweet I'll beat the crap out of you and then stick you in my kitchen to make food for me.

The second is referring to mitochondria not kitchen bitches.

Re:It's what's for dinner. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30912106)

Mmmmm, kitchen bitches.

Re:It's what's for dinner. (1)

nacturation (646836) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912200)

The second is referring to mitochondria not kitchen bitches.

Where do the midichlorians come into play?

Re:Well duh? (1)

UnknowingFool (672806) | more than 4 years ago | (#30911884)

Also to note, this doesn't supplant Darwinian evolution but adds to it. I can see that this might be plausible in the early stages of life on this planet where microbes would acquire genes from other microbes. I'm wondering if the proponents consider the mitochondria as one example of this horizontal evolution?

Re:Well duh? (4, Interesting)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912262)

I can see that this might be plausible in the early stages of life on this planet where microbes would acquire genes from other microbes.

I saw an article recently about a species of snail that has acquired the genes for making chlorophyll from the algae it eats. It hasn't yet acquired the genes to make chloroplasts, so it has to eat algae to get enough chloroplasts from the algae to allow photosynthesis to work, but after that it is capable of living with no food other than light.

So, obviously this is still ongoing, and on larger scales than microbes.

Re:Well duh? (2, Informative)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 4 years ago | (#30911964)

To be precise, there is no theory that says your grandfather was a monkey. The religious nuts made that straw-man up all on their own. :P

Re:Well duh? (1)

Arthur Grumbine (1086397) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912088)

To be precise, there is no theory that says your grandfather was a monkey. The religious nuts made that straw-man up all on their own. :P

I beg to differ [youtube.com] . Although still struggling for broad acceptance, the theory that you are the retarded offspring of 5 monkeys and a fish-squirrel is being taught in our schools.

Re:Well duh? (-1, Offtopic)

RobinEggs (1453925) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912010)

The very first thing I wondered when I saw the word Darwinian in the headline was "How many seconds will it take the slashdotters to slip in a blithe attack on creationism, even though no creationists will have attacked the theory or even responded?"

Turns out it was roughly five.

Just why is it that ultra-conservative rants about God or racial superiority or anti-socialism are instantly modded off-topic, troll, and/or flamebait until they sink beneath the thresh hold and yet completely off-topic attacks on Creationism in every story even vaguely connected with biology or evolution get modded +5 insightful?

Re:Well duh? (-1, Troll)

RobinEggs (1453925) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912096)

Fucking brilliant, modding my prior post offtopic. I respond directly to someone elses post for the sake of pointing out a systemic problem with snotty, self-righteous offtopic posts and what do you do? Mod me offtopic. Good fucking game, slashdot.

Re:Well duh? (3, Insightful)

wealthychef (584778) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912134)

Just why is it that ultra-conservative rants about God or racial superiority or anti-socialism are instantly modded off-topic, troll, and/or flamebait until they sink beneath the thresh hold

You're seriously asking this question?

and yet completely off-topic attacks on Creationism in every story even vaguely connected with biology or evolution get modded +5 insightful?

I think you are exaggerating.

Re:Well duh? (1, Insightful)

RobinEggs (1453925) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912190)

I think you are exaggerating.

I'm not exaggerating in the least; look around. I see at least one +5 post in every biology or evolution topic that exclusively concerns bashing creationism and only half of the time even mentions the topic at hand.

You're seriously asking this question?

Of course I'm not seriously asking why ultra-conservative rants get modded down as if I believe they shouldn't, I was just contrasting the constant stream of hate stupid, vitriolic conservatives get with the near-acceptance stupid, vitriolic anti-Christians receive.

Re:Well duh? (1)

cortesoft (1150075) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912518)

On Slashdot, we discuss science, technology, and computers (logic machines). Creationism is anti-science and anti-logic. Wouldn't it make sense that posts arguing against science and logic would be modded down on such a site?

Let me explain... (3, Insightful)

denzacar (181829) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912150)

Just why is it that ultra-conservative rants about God or racial superiority or anti-socialism are instantly modded off-topic, troll, and/or flamebait until they sink beneath the thresh hold and yet completely off-topic attacks on Creationism in every story even vaguely connected with biology or evolution get modded +5 insightful?

Same reason why at least someone will look favorably on the fact that you may have served pizza for desert, while you will be forever banished from the kitchen (and other places) if you serve up a pile of dung.

Both are off-topic, but while one still satisfies the basic requirements - the other is a pile of shit.

In the case of pizza - it is still food; in case of pointing out the errors of creationism - it is still a discussion about evolutionary theories, it only digresses towards pointing out the wrong ones.
Creationism and a plate full of dung - a pile of shit.

Re:Let me explain... (1)

RobinEggs (1453925) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912212)

...[criticizing creationism] is still a discussion about evolutionary theories, it only digresses towards pointing out the wrong ones.

Except that it's not a mere digression when it's so many respondents first (and only) thing to contribute; it's just hate and smug dismissal of someone not even in the conversation masquerading as a contribution.

Re:Let me explain... (1)

denzacar (181829) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912440)

Some people involved in the conversation that are actually considering evolution theory might still find it sensible. (I.e. Some people are human males, some human female.)

On the other hand, utter nonsense is and will be utter nonsense to willing to actually consider evolution theory. (I.e. All human males are people.)

Capitalism? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30911666)

So, would this "horizontal gene transfer" be like capitalism? Does it become a battle to see who can acquire the most and/or the best genes? Do you end up with winners for a while, until the losers get disgusted and start sparking genetic revolutions? Would Darwinian revolution be a happy meritocracy that arose as a kind of "compromise"?

However, I've always read Darwinian evolution as "survival of the fittest", with no qualifier as to how you go about surviving. It always implied to me that the organisms (as defined by its genetic code) were what did the surviving. If organisms enhance their survival by acquiring genes through means other than sex, this doesn't seem non Darwinian to me. It just seems like a deeper understanding of evolution.

The more intriguing possibility, with serious impliations for us humans, is "intentional evolution". In other words, organisms purposefully manipulating their own genes. That actually might be considered a radical enough change to give it a new name: Recursive Evolution.

Re:Capitalism? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30911916)

How do welfare niggers fit into survival of the fittest?

Re:Capitalism? (4, Informative)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 4 years ago | (#30911936)

However, I've always read Darwinian evolution as "survival of the fittest", with no qualifier as to how you go about surviving.

"Survival of the fittest" aka Natural Selection was half of Darwinian evolution. This was the half about how traits were selected for in the environment.

The other half was how an organism's traits came about, and his theory was that traits were passed from parents to offspring in the reproductive cells via some biological mechanism that allowed for combination and mutation. Eventually we discovered DNA, the very biological mechanism in question that had traits like Darwin predicted (though Mendel was the one who really nailed down the probably behavior of this then-unknown mechanism).

"Horizontal" evolution doesn't fall into that category, though. So it's not "Darwinian". Even though natural selection (obviously) still applies to what gene transfers result in successful organisms.

As the summary mentions, this is well known in micro-organisms. In fact as far as I can tell they aren't arguing that it applies to anything but microorganisms. The argument seems more like that because these are the most common life forms on earth and also the oldest, Darwinian evolution is not the most common or dominant form of evolution.

Which is a good point. Though really, as far as what affects us and other sexually reproducing creatures, Darwinian evolution is still 'it' more or less. The real importance of this breakthrough is in studying how the evolutionary mechanisms themselves evolved -- evolution is of course not immune to evolution. ;) This is going to be a powerful way of thinking about how early aspects of DNA came to be.

But just to be clear -- if someone says that this proves Darwin was wrong, evolution is a sham, and therefore their beliefs are probably right, go ahead and slap them. :) All this means is that evolution is even more complicated and powerful than previously thought.

You Need the Right Tools (2, Insightful)

Favonius Cornelius (1691688) | more than 4 years ago | (#30911700)

I guess you could push horizontal genetic flow with viruses in the higher organisms, like us. In general however, horizontal genetic flow occurs between plants and bacteria because they have the molecular mechanisims for it. If anything it would suggest horizontal genetic flow was the first stage of evolution, with classic evolution taking over more so as time moved forward since higher organisms have a higher need to maintain genetic continuity due to specific and more complicated form. For instance you have chromosomal ploidy in plants because they follow a different evolutionary strategy: stay in place, but grow as much as possible to aquire resources. In this case genetic diversity may help. In the ambultory mammal however, it wants to retain a very specific morphology to keep doing what it does, therefore it maintains a more rigid genetic control and linear evolution.

Once again (5, Funny)

copponex (13876) | more than 4 years ago | (#30911704)

You know, scientists just keep reforming their ideas until it conforms to observable reality. How can they expect anyone to believe what they say when they're just going to keep changing their minds?

I prefer my religion. It allows me to conform reality to my ideas.

You raise an interesting point here (1, Insightful)

Xaedalus (1192463) | more than 4 years ago | (#30911856)

One of the issues I've been thinking a lot about lately is the psychological principle of certainty. When you say "...scientists just keep reforming their ideas until it conforms to observable reality. How can they expect anyone to believe what they say when they're just going to keep changing their minds?" you hit upon something important: certainty of belief. How can the average layperson trust scientific opinion when said scientific opinion says "This is FACT... until it's not"? People require certainty of belief in order to operate. They have to know that gravity means you're pulled down, the sun will rise in the east, that the Bernoulli theorem will always work when they're flying. They incorporate these facts into their daily operation and worldview.

So when scientists say "X is true" and then come along several years later and say "No, we were wrong, Y is true" and then come along several years alter and say "Both X and Y were wrong, now Z is true", the average person cannot count on the certainty of X, Y, or Z, or that the scientists are correct. Regardless of the fact that most citizens are taught the scientific process in school, most of them don't retain it because it has little to no impact on their daily lives (they take for granted the progress we've made). And thus, we get people who deny global climate change, or that we walked on the moon, or that vaccines work.

Here on /., we all argue over these topics and for the most part, we understand the scientific process (whether we agree with its findings is a whole other story). We may argue, fight, and haggle, but eventually we do reach a consensus. However, the average citizen never does, and I think that's why we have so much skepticism towards evolution, or climate change, or space flight, or vaccines, or science in general, and why so many choose to cling to organized religion (Up until Vatican II for instance, Catholic dogma had not changed much since the seventh century - that's pretty damn static).

I hope you don't mind me airing my opinion here. I just thought you raised a really interesting point and wanted to call some attention to it. We on /. tend to forget that most of the world's population has no idea what Science is: to them, scientific progress is indistinguishable from magic.

Re:You raise an interesting point here (3, Insightful)

Joel Brown (1730506) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912312)

It is important to note that the idea the "science is about truth" is a common intellectual error of modern society. Science has nothing to do with finding truth or learning how the universe actually works or anything of the sort. Science is about building models of observable natural phenomena. The point of the models is to conform with what is observable and hopefully predict something that hasn't yet been observed, but which can then be tested and seen to work. Good science is about building models that work well, and refining models that don't. Poor science is about building models that sound like they ought to work but don't conform to observation. Really lousy science is about building models that can't be tested against reality and don't predict anything. Are you listening evolutionary psychologists? Take for example: "survival of the fittest" - This is a model for the mechanism by which one organism gets to spread its genes. It sounds perfectly plausible, almost indisputably sensible. But what does it mean? The key is the word "fittest". "Fittest" means best able to survive. So the model mechanism is really survival of the one ones that survived. Now it sounds trite and unhelpful, which it is. How do we know it's not "survival of the luckiest" or "survival of every n-th one"? We don't, but survival of the fittest is more appealing to our cultural sensibilities, so we go with that. If you remember that science is about coming up with ways to get your head around nature, rather than about figuring out what nature really is, then you don't get caught in the trap of "how can you trust science?" You only have to trust it as far as it is working for you, you don't have to build your world view on it.

Re:Once again (3, Insightful)

BitZtream (692029) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912246)

Most people treat what they call science as a religion. They go wild that someone reads a book and believes the far fetched ideas in it, yet they have no problem reading something off wikipedia and assuming its fact.

The claim is that you CAN test and confirm it, but they don't, they just blindly assume because someone else wrote it down and some others agree with them.

I really don't see any difference in the way most nutjobs treat science compared/contrasted to the way religions nutjobs treat religion.

I dunno... (5, Funny)

Dupple (1016592) | more than 4 years ago | (#30911712)

I pass on my genes horizontally

If you want to do the cross-species thing . . . (4, Funny)

StefanJ (88986) | more than 4 years ago | (#30911780)

. . . you're better off doing it vertically.

Wearing running shoes.

And ideally permission of the farmer.

(beat)

What?

Only horizontally? How quaint (1)

Animaether (411575) | more than 4 years ago | (#30911810)

You're not nearly adventurous enough, young lad!

Then again.. I've always thought the guy who's getting it on standing upright in his Corvette convertible is destined for a Darwin Award, so there might be something to this story

Re:I dunno... (1)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 4 years ago | (#30911878)

I pass on my genes horizontally

Roses are red, genes are blue,
their mistakes are small, and very rare,
as long as you discount, Dupple's hair.
*cough*
Anyway, I don't care what's in your genes as long as you stay out of mine. :P

Genetic Engineering (3, Insightful)

ddxexex (1664191) | more than 4 years ago | (#30911716)

So does this explain why you can stick "random" genes into a completely different organism and gain traits that wouldn't arise normally? This seems like it'll be very useful in GE if the mechanics of it are explored more.

Re:Genetic Engineering (1)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 4 years ago | (#30911792)

actually that's a myth, you can't just stick random genes into any organism and have it survive. it's one of the nonsense arguments the anti GM fanatics spout while they foam at the mouth about so called frankenfood.

Re:Genetic Engineering (2, Insightful)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912050)

So does this explain why you can stick "random" genes into a completely different organism and gain traits that wouldn't arise normally? This seems like it'll be very useful in GE if the mechanics of it are explored more.

Well, except that the mechanisms involved in horizontal gene transfer are already key tools in genetic engineering. The notionally big deal here is the idea that because of the dominance of horizontal gene transfer as a primary mechanism of gene transfer, there was a time when organism-centered evolution wasn't the primary mode of evolution, and that instead the units on which evolution operated were genes themselves. The case has been made previously (and popularized by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene) that while organisms are convenient proxies in lots of cases, genes ought to be considered the unit on which selection works even now, and that doing so was both more practically useful and more sensible in terms of the logical coherence of the model than using the organism as the fundamental unit on which evolution works.

In any case, it may be a mistake to contrast this with "Darwinian evolution" particularly in the "modern sense", since Darwinian evolution is recognized as a general process which applies when certain factors are present, no matter what the unit on which it works happens to be (and this generality is important to its applications in machine learning and is at the heart of the concept of memetics.)

It's still natural selection (4, Insightful)

BenBoy (615230) | more than 4 years ago | (#30911724)

This really isn't entirely new; Dawkins' book The Selfish Gene [amazon.com] is based around the idea that it's individual genes that are selected for, not organisms.

Re:It's still natural selection (3, Informative)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 4 years ago | (#30911830)

Which is nothing more than a restatement of what Darwin said, since a gene is nothing more than an encoded trait. It is the trait that actually matters, not the gene, since the trait is what gives the animal the ability to survive. It doesn't really matter if the trait is encoded as DNA or as biologic etchings on advanced carbon fiber, in either case it is just a representation of a trait.

Re:It's still natural selection (1)

Trepidity (597) | more than 4 years ago | (#30911960)

In a broad sense, yes, but in a more specific sense, Darwinian evolution, which posits inheritance by natural selection of traits, is often contrasted with Lamarckian evolution, which posits inheritance of adult traits. Horizontal gene transfer is not quite Lamarckian evolution (it's not usually from parents to children), but in the sense that traits acquired in adulthood can be passed on, it's closer to Lamarckian than Darwinian evolution.

Re:It's still natural selection (1)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912370)

What you say is accurate, but you seem to have missed the context, since in my post I was referring to Dawkin's Selfish Gene idea that the GGP was referring to, not so much the idea of horizontal gene transfer.

Referring back to the content of your post, you are right, but to be fair to Darwin, I don't think he really addressed the evolution of microscopic organisms.

Re:It's still natural selection (3, Interesting)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 4 years ago | (#30911836)

In social animals, it is the survival of the group that is driving evolution, not the survival of individual or their genes. If the survival of each individual's genes were paramount, there would be no homosexuality and no parents killing their own children, 'cause those are pretty much dead-end paths from the standpoint of survival of the individual. Another way of thinking of this is that altruism really does have survival value; just like with army ants, being willing to sacrifice individuals for the good of the group is a good evolutionary strategy.

Re:It's still natural selection (1)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 4 years ago | (#30911906)

and what causes them to be social animals? their genetics. no amount of environmental factors is going to cause say, a great white shark, to suddenly become a social animal.

Re:It's still natural selection (1)

feepness (543479) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912290)

In social animals, it is the survival of the group that is driving evolution, not the survival of individual or their genes.

The question then becomes... which group.

Re:It's still natural selection (3, Informative)

trouser (149900) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912478)

Not the individual's genes, the individual gene. In all plants and animals it is reproduction combined with mutation and recombination that is driving evolution.

Social animals posses genetic traits which promote social or herd behaviour. In these animals the trait survives because for these animals in the environment in which the trait emerged it increases the chance of survival and reproduction. The gene promotes itself.

Worker ants are infertile. They share common genetic information with the queen. To protect the nest and the queen increases the chance of propagation of their genes even though they do not reproduce themselves. There's probably a gene for that.

I have no idea about infanticide but I do recall hearing of a study recently which observed that homosexual men frequently have one or more close female relatives who are unusually fecund. I can't find the link and the research may have since been debunked but the idea is interesting as it suggests the possibility of a gene which increases the reproductive fitness of one individual while reducing the reproductive fitness of another.

Of course that assumes that being homosexual reduces your chance of reproduction.

Re:It's still natural selection (1)

franoreilly (109719) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912054)

There's nothing fundamentally different being mooted here.

We are talking about the very early stages of life when I imagine that the boundary between separate organisms itself was probably very poorly defined compared to today's life forms; so in that sort of environment, a different horizontal mechanism of gene propagation could well have been the primary one.

The mechanism may be somewhat different to most of what happens today, but the core concept of Dawkins' "selfish gene" is unchanged, where the propagation of the gene, not the type of organism, is selected for,

Re:It's still natural selection (3, Informative)

SoftwareArtist (1472499) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912490)

Exactly. Evolution is a fundamental mathematical process that applies to information, not organisms. To get evolution, you only need two elements:

1. An information storage medium.

2. A mechanism for reproducing that information such that certain pieces of information are more likely to get reproduced than others.

Once you have those, everything else follows, and it doesn't matter what the precise storage mechanism or copying mechanism is. Horizontal gene transfer is just another way for genetic information to reproduce.

Still natural selection (3, Informative)

Toonol (1057698) | more than 4 years ago | (#30911784)

We've already known that evolution depends on both inheritance of genetic matter and mutation of genetic matter. This is a third mechanism for generating traits, but it stills falls under the umbrella of natural selection. If the change is beneficial, and leads to more offspring, the change will be selected for. Certainly worth study, and we may not have known the full scope of the phenomena, but it doesn't really contradict Darwinian evolution at all.

As a side note... I wonder if the fact this occurs in nature will silence some of the people objecting to genetic splicing?

Re:Still natural selection (2, Insightful)

Trepidity (597) | more than 4 years ago | (#30911978)

Well, it's a mechanism for directly passing on traits (via a direct transfer), which is closer to Lamarckian evolution than Darwinian evolution, in the classic 19th-century dispute. But you're right that it's not a huge challenge to modern evolutionary theory. What it might pose somewhat more of a problem for are certain areas of phylogenetics, especially cladistics [wikipedia.org] that rely fairly heavily on an assumption that evolutionary trees are indeed trees.

Objectors vs. Occurs in nature (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912102)

As a side note... I wonder if the fact this occurs in nature will silence some of the people objecting to genetic splicing?

Has the fact that miscarriage occurs in nature silenced the people objecting to induced abortion?

Has the fact that death occurs in nature silenced the people objecting to murder?

Has the fact that group conflicts over territory occur in nature silenced the people objecting to war?

Has the fact that climate changes occur in nature silenced the people objecting to human actions which contribute to climate change?

In general "X occurs in nature" does not silence people who object to humans choosing actions which use or result in X or something very much like it.

I've suspected this all along (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 4 years ago | (#30911786)

I've always felt that viruses might be the driving force in evolution; they are very good at taking genes from one organism and splicing them into another. Also, one of the first traits that would have evolved after the split into two sexes would have been the ability to choose mates with traits complementary to your own, thus for higher species there is actually some intelligence driving evolution forward.

I've heard of this (0)

Beerdood (1451859) | more than 4 years ago | (#30911804)

From TFA : Suppose that a process he never wrote about, and never even imagined, has been controlling the evolution of life throughout most of the Earth's history

Intelligent Design?

Re:I've heard of this (1)

AP31R0N (723649) | more than 4 years ago | (#30911844)

Bevets? Is that you?

Bestiality? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30911832)

Cross-species genetic transfer? Like on Avatar, right?

Original paper on arXiv (5, Informative)

PaulBu (473180) | more than 4 years ago | (#30911928)

For those who do not care to register for that New Scientist, we still have arXiv... :)

http://arxiv.org/abs/q-bio/0702015 [arxiv.org]

Paul B.

Re:Original paper on arXiv (4, Informative)

radtea (464814) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912138)

Thanks, as the New Sensationalist article is full of lies and hyperbole, completely idiotic, transparent falsehoods like, "This code is universal, shared by all organisms, and biologists have long known that it has remarkable properties"

This simply a lie, as is the claim that 64 combinations producing 20 codons is "redundancy". The reason there are only 20 is well-known to anyone with the least little bit of familiarity with the subject: it is the maximum number of unambiguous combinations, so that if you get six bases in a row there is exactly one way to read them, because no two codons together can result in a third codon being read between them.

The arXiv article may have something interesting to say, although inter-species genetic transfer has been known to occur amongst micro-organisms for a long time. From a Darwinian perspective the genes available in the environment are just that: another perfectly ordinary part of the environment. Since Darwin's Law depends only on the laws of probability and the fact of imperfect replication, it applies to situations where horizontal transfer takes place just as much as when imperfect copies of genes come from ancestors.

The details of Darwinian evolution will change a little in the context where organisms are taking genetic resources directly from the environment, but it's still a Darwinian process.

The weird statements about "questioning if organisms even exist as individuals" are just idiotic marketing hype that pretty much ensure the whole argument is vastly less interesting and important than the authors want to make it appear. Otherwise, why the need for such anti-scientific hype? Unless it is the New Sensationalist characteristically ripping an innocent statement out of context.

Re:Original paper on arXiv (3, Interesting)

radtea (464814) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912220)

http://arxiv.org/abs/q-bio/0702015 [arxiv.org]

Ok, I've read the original paper now, and it is almost as moronic as the New Sensationalist makes it out to be.

Their argument is analogous to the following claim:

I can stand on dry land, or I can swim in the water, but there is the broad swath of territory that is neither dry land nor water so deep I can do nothing but swim in it. Therefore, the concept of "land" (or "water") may actually be completely useless! Aren't we clever?

Scientists have a tendency toward various kinds of conceptual realism, where they think that there is exactly one way to properly understand the universe, and the entities picked out by that way are "real" and no others are. When they find a case that they can't crisply classify under the existing concepts there are two moves: the smart one, that refines existing concepts and introduces new ones to deal with the boundary cases; and the idiotic one, that claims that since the existing concepts don't deal well with the new case, they must not pick out anything "real" after all and should be thrown away.

That the biological species concept fails in various ways has been known for a long time. They are now pointing out that certain criteria that would normally be used to delineate individuals might also fail under some circumstances. To this I say: big deal. The biological species concept, like the concept of Newtonian mass, is still incredibly useful in understanding reality under a wide range of circumstances, which is all a scientist can hope for. If their new concepts--which they don't really offer--transform smoothly into the biological species concept in the appropriate circumstances I'll be interested. Otherwise, they're just gabbling.

I wrote about this a while ago (3, Interesting)

presidenteloco (659168) | more than 4 years ago | (#30911930)

The notion that life probably started by weak, stochastic replication of families of similar molecules.

By weak, is meant that the replication of the molecule/structure is more imperfect from generation to generation
than in present day life, and so a class of similar molecules (life codes) is being continued through time
rather than a singular particular molecule (same genome).

If this origin theory were true, we would expect the replication capability (continued recreation of imperfect but still somewhat replication-capable molecules)
to be robust to change of DNA/RNA even today.

By stochastic, is meant that such imperfect replication is likely to only be stochastically successful in a huge population of the
initially highly approximate (i.e. weak) replicator molecules.

In other words, we would not expect this proto-life to be as reliable at being able to continue (or to always reliably grow by recruiting
surrounding matter into high-fidelity copies.)

So we might expect these proto-life molecule soups to initially just contain in some regions higher than expected probabilities,
stochastically, from time to time, of weak-replicator molecule classes.

Perhaps there is a binary threshold of replication probability and fidelity at which the process self-sustains reliably in the
generality of environment it finds itself in. Life catches fire, and cannot easily be stopped at its matter and energy recruitment
game from that point on.

So how does the FSM fit into all of this? (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 4 years ago | (#30911962)

I mean, explain this [wikipedia.org] .

Viruses (1)

gedrin (1423917) | more than 4 years ago | (#30911974)

It's interesting that infectious viruses may form an essential foundation for our own evolution. It may even be that viruses are a developed strategy for "importing tallent" from competitors or neighbors. It has interesting things to say about inerconnection between organisms in a species and between species. Infectability may be a long term strategy for development.

Then again, it could be exactly the other way. Advanced organisms are just diverse platforms which viruses have evolved as elaborate tools and development shops for their survival and propagation.

Re:Viruses (1)

BitZtream (692029) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912284)

'may' ?

A bit of common sense, a little science and a history lesson makes it pretty clear that 'may play a part' really should be 'does play a part'

EVERYTHING IS INTERCONNECTED. Nothing on Earth would have evolved over the same time period in the same pattern if you change any given part of it. The differences could be subtle enough that no one notices or so massive that an outside observer wouldn't ever think they started from the same point. The entire universe, while made of discrete components is all interconnected and everything down to the smallest level effects everything else in some way, even if its so minor we can't detect it.

Viruses (4, Insightful)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 4 years ago | (#30911980)

Horizontal transfer isn't really over, either - we still have retroviruses.

hopefully faggots are only a phase (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30911996)

i hope they all die out forever

Fascinating (1)

koan (80826) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912002)

As to the vector for horizontal transmission of genetic material how about viruses?

Recent discoveries... (2, Informative)

Uncle_Meataxe (702474) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912012)

There have been some other interesting discoveries regarding horizontal gene transfer recently. For example, this PNAS paper looks at sea slugs that can photosynthesize by themselves -- http://www.pnas.org/content/105/46/17867.full.pdf [pnas.org] ). The sea slugs photosynthesize through a combination of harvesting chloroplasts from the algae they eat and via horizontal transfer of genes involved in photosynthesis from these same algae. This is a bizarre and amazing discovery which demonstrates how genes can move from plants and be incorporated in an animal genome.

Genetic Manipulation? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30912032)

yes, but not really surprising looking at jumping genes: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jumping_genes

for me: GM might be more complicated than often thought....and maybe more dangerous.
do we really know what we are doing?
it seems there are more mechanism involved in genetics than: parent passes genes to offspring.

darwinism doesn't even support evolution.... (1)

scrout (814004) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912038)

Finches beaks evolve depending on environmental factors = one species evolves to another...NOT. Since proving something as complex as DNA evolved is somewhat problematic, especially to mathematicians, something new will have to be proposed....

Has anyone added this to a GA yet? (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912058)

n/t

GM Foods anyone? (2, Insightful)

Beerdood (1451859) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912070)

"horizontal gene transfer - in which organisms acquire genetic material "horizontally" from other organisms around them, rather than vertically from their parents or ancestors."

Genetically modified foods are like the "artificial selection" equivalent of nature / natural selection - if the transfer of genes can happen from one set of species to another, then GM crops are kinds of an accelerated / selective version of this. If I were Monsanto or another big GM food company, I'd be looking to twist this into "Genetic material gets transferred to other species in nature, what's wrong with us doing it?"

I know (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30912074)

I already beat it. The next phase has a really hard boss.

We've heard this from our mothers for years... (1)

Ransak (548582) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912092)

"You are what you eat."

Cue the toilet humor in 3... 2... 1...

Gene Synthesis (3, Interesting)

mosb1000 (710161) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912130)

One of the big difficulties I have in understanding evolution is the process of gene syntheses. It seems reasonable that over time certain combinations of genes can win out over others, and certainly in bacteria you see this horizontal gene transfer happen all the time. You even see it in plants now thanks to genetic engineering, and before that you saw it in a more limited way thanks to viruses and cross-pollination and things like that. But all these things have to do with the transfer of genetic information between life-forms.

The question in my mind is where did all the genes come from in the first place. Proteins are complex macro-molecules. It's not like one protein that catalyzes one reaction can simply mutate into a different protein that catalyzes a different reaction. It's more of an all or nothing thing. It doesn't seem like you would ever see transitional "evolutionary" forms of proteins for that reason. Worse still, you can't (as far as we know) start with a working a protein and reverse-transcribe from it into a strand of DNA or RNA that could code for it.

What do you think?

Re:Gene Synthesis (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30912390)

It doesn't need to be that complicated. Some simple forms of RNA are able to catalyze their own replication. Proteins, DNA, cells and organisms could be viewed as really hackish ways to facilitate replication of more complicated RNA forms.

-M5B

Re:Gene Synthesis (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912398)

I think you are overestimating your ability to cope with several billion years.

(I'm not insisting that I am any better at it, but I am willing to believe that lots of things can happen in 1 billion years, no matter how improbable)

Explains a lot (1)

joepress99 (69729) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912176)

especially my co-workers

darwin didn't know the details? shocking! (4, Insightful)

panthroman (1415081) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912194)

Have Woese and Goldenfeld a brilliant new idea? All they're saying, I think, is that "parent" and "child" are the appropriate units of selection only when genes are passed vertically: from parent to child. They're suggesting that horizontal gene transfer is underrated as a historical evolutionary force.

Agree or not, it hardly undermines Darwin. Genes weren't known in the 19th century. Darwin didn't have a clue about genes, so we're gonna knock him for being "wrong" about it? I mean, was Jesus wrong about genes, too? It's anachronistic silliness.

Science is fundamentally dynamic. Any science that hasn't progressed in 150 years ain't doing too well. (Dear creationists: stop calling us "Darwinists." We've moved on.) I mean, The Origin came out in 1859, for crying out loud! Darwin was more brilliant, more insightful, and rightly more famous than I'll ever be. But if we both had to take a biology test right now, I'd kill him.

Hey wait, does this mean... (1)

Redon (1719638) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912276)

...early life was open-source?! :D

Re:Hey wait, does this mean... (1)

Redon (1719638) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912382)

From the article: "It would have acted as an innovation-sharing protocol," says Goldenfeld, "greatly enhancing the ability of organisms to share genetic innovations that were beneficial."

That's very true (1)

aflag (941367) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912358)

it's how peter parker got his powers!

Its still evolution virtical or horizontal. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30912436)

Just one more bullet in the killing of gods.

Recent evidence for horizontal gene transfer (1)

ther.geek (1516863) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912504)

Spider-man and Batman are the proof of horizontal gene transfer theory.

Darwinian Evolution Considered As a Phase (1)

Phizzle (1109923) | more than 4 years ago | (#30912514)

between Creationism and Global Warming!!! OMGZ
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