Evolutionary biology rejoices in the diversity of life, but this comes at a cost: other than working in the common framework of neo-Darwinian evolution, specialists in, for example, diatoms and mammals have little to say to each other. Accordingly, their research tends to track the particularities and peculiarities of a given group and seldom enquires whether there are any wider or deeper sets of explanations. Here, I present evidence in support of the heterodox idea that evolution might look to a general theory that does more than serve as a tautology (‘evolution explains evolution’). Specifically, I argue that far from its myriad of products being fortuitous and accidental, evolution is remarkably predictable. Thus, I urge a move away from the continuing obsession with Darwinian mechanisms, which are entirely uncontroversial. Rather, I emphasize why we should seek explanations for ubiquitous evolutionary convergence, as well as the emergence of complex integrated systems. At present, evolutionary theory seems to be akin to nineteenth-century physics, blissfully unaware of the imminent arrival of quantum mechanics and general relativity. Physics had its Newton, biology its Darwin: evolutionary biology now awaits its Einstein.
evolution; convergence; frogs; theropods; E. coli; viruses
In this review we consider the new science of Darwinian medicine. While it has often been said that evolutionary theory is the glue that holds the disparate branches of biological inquiry together and gives them direction and purpose, the links to biomedical inquiry have only recently been articulated in a coherent manner. Our aim in this review is to make clear first of all, how evolutionary theory is relevant to medicine; and secondly, how the biomedical sciences have enriched our understanding of evolutionary processes. We will conclude our review with some observations of the philosophical significance of this interplay between evolutionary theory and the biomedical sciences.
The three requirements for a Darwinian evolutionary process are replication, variation and selection. Dennett (2006) discusses various theories of how these three processes, especially selection, may have operated in the evolution of religion. He believes that the origins of religion, like the origins of language and music, may be approached scientifically. He hopes that such investigations will open a dialog between science and religion leading to moderation of current religious extremism. One problem with Dennett's program, illustrating the difficulty of breaking away from creationist thinking, is Dennett's own failure to consider how Darwinian methods may be used to study evolution of behavioral patterns over the lifetime of individual organisms.
religion; evolution; science; Darwinism; teleological behaviourism; intentional stance
One of the important insights of quasi-species theory is an error-threshold. The error-threshold is the error rate of replication above which the sudden onset of the population delocalization from the fittest genotype occurs despite Darwinian selection; i.e., the break down of evolutionary optimization. However, a recent article by Wilke in this journal, after reviewing the previous studies on the error-threshold, concluded that the error-threshold does not exist if lethal mutants are taken into account in a fitness landscape. Since lethal mutants obviously exist in reality, this has a significant implication about biological evolution. However, the study of Wagner and Krall on which Wilke's conclusion was based considered mutation-selection dynamics in one-dimensional genotype space with the assumption that a genotype can mutate only to an adjoining genotype in the genotype space. In this article, we study whether the above conclusion holds in high-dimensional genotype space without the assumption of the adjacency of mutations, where the consequences of mutation-selection dynamics can be qualitatively different.
To examine the effect of mutant lethality on the existence of the error-threshold, we extend the quasi-species equation by taking the lethality of mutants into account, assuming that lethal genotypes are uniformly distributed in the genotype space. First, with the simplification of neglecting back mutations, we calculate the error-threshold as the maximum allowable mutation rate for which the fittest genotype can survive. Second, with the full consideration of back mutations, we study the equilibrium population distribution and the ancestor distribution in the genotype space as a function of error rate with and without lethality in a multiplicative fitness landscape. The results show that a high lethality of mutants actually introduces an error-threshold in a multiplicative fitness landscape in sharp contrast to the conclusion of Wilke. Furthermore, irrespective of the lethality of mutants, the delocalization of the population from the fittest genotype occurs for an error rate much smaller than random replication. Finally, the results are shown to extend to a system of finite populations.
High lethality of mutants introduces an error-threshold in a multiplicative fitness landscape. Furthermore, irrespective of the lethality of mutants, the break down of evolutionary optimization happens for an error rate much smaller than random replication.
Sex is considered as an evolutionary paradox, since its positive contribution to Darwinian fitness remains unverified for some species. Defenses against unpredictable threats (parasites, fluctuating environment and deleterious mutations) are indeed significantly improved by wider genetic variability and by positive epistasis gained by sexual reproduction. The corresponding evolutionary advantages, however, do not overcome universally the barrier of the two-fold cost for sharing half of one's offspring genome with another member of the population. Here we show that sexual reproduction emerges and is maintained even when its Darwinian fitness is twice as low as the fitness of asexuals. We also show that more than two sexes (inheritance of genetic material from three or even more parents) are always evolutionary unstable. Our approach generalizes the evolutionary game theory to analyze species whose members are able to sense the sexual state of their conspecifics and to adapt their own sex consequently, either by switching or by taxis towards the highest concentration of the complementary sex. The widespread emergence and maintenance of sex follows therefore from its co-evolution with the even more widespread environmental sensing abilities.
We consider approaches to brain dynamics and function that have been claimed to be Darwinian. These include Edelman’s theory of neuronal group selection, Changeux’s theory of synaptic selection and selective stabilization of pre-representations, Seung’s Darwinian synapse, Loewenstein’s synaptic melioration, Adam’s selfish synapse, and Calvin’s replicating activity patterns. Except for the last two, the proposed mechanisms are selectionist but not truly Darwinian, because no replicators with information transfer to copies and hereditary variation can be identified in them. All of them fit, however, a generalized selectionist framework conforming to the picture of Price’s covariance formulation, which deliberately was not specific even to selection in biology, and therefore does not imply an algorithmic picture of biological evolution. Bayesian models and reinforcement learning are formally in agreement with selection dynamics. A classification of search algorithms is shown to include Darwinian replicators (evolutionary units with multiplication, heredity, and variability) as the most powerful mechanism for search in a sparsely occupied search space. Examples are given of cases where parallel competitive search with information transfer among the units is more efficient than search without information transfer between units. Finally, we review our recent attempts to construct and analyze simple models of true Darwinian evolutionary units in the brain in terms of connectivity and activity copying of neuronal groups. Although none of the proposed neuronal replicators include miraculous mechanisms, their identification remains a challenge but also a great promise.
neural Darwinism; neuronal group selection; neuronal replicator hypothesis; Darwinian neurodynamics; Izhikevich spiking networks; causal inference; price equation; hill-climbers
The origins of human ageing are to be found in the origins and evolution of senescence as a general feature in the life histories of higher animals. Ageing is an intriguing problem in evolutionary biology because a trait that limits the duration of life, including the fertile period, has a negative impact on Darwinian fitness. Current theory suggests that senescence occurs because the force of natural selection declines with age and because longevity is only acquired at some metabolic cost. In effect, organisms may trade late survival for enhanced reproductive investments in earlier life. The comparative study of ageing supports the general evolutionary theory and reveals that human senescence, while broadly similar to senescence in other mammalian species, has distinct features, such as menopause, that may derive from the interplay of biological and social evolution.
The Darwinian concept of biological evolution assumes that life on Earth shares a common ancestor. The diversification of this common ancestor through speciation events and vertical transmission of genetic material implies that the classification of life can be illustrated in a tree-like manner, commonly referred to as the Tree of Life. This article describes features of the Tree of Life, such as how the tree has been both pruned and become bushier throughout the past century as our knowledge of biology has expanded. We present current views that the classification of life may be best illustrated as a ring or even a coral with tree-like characteristics. This article also discusses how the organization of the Tree of Life offers clues about ancient life on Earth. In particular, we focus on the environmental conditions and temperature history of Precambrian life and show how chemical, biological, and geological data can converge to better understand this history.
“You know, a tree is a tree. How many more do you need to look at?”–Ronald Reagan (Governor of California), quoted in the Sacramento Bee, opposing expansion of Redwood National Park, March 3, 1966
Environmental temperature significantly influenced the evolution of early life forms. Reconstruction of ancestral DNA sequences is helping to reveal Earth’s temperature history.
Attempts to understand how information content can be included in an accounting of the energy flux of the biosphere have led to the conclusion that, in information transmission, one component, the semantic content, or “the meaning of the message,” adds no thermodynamic burden over and above costs arising from coding, transmission and translation. In biology, semantic content has two major roles. For all life forms, the message of the genotype encoded in DNA specifies the phenotype, and hence the organism that is tested against the real world through the mechanisms of Darwinian evolution. For human beings, communication through language and similar abstractions provides an additional supra-phenotypic vehicle for semantic inheritance, which supports the cultural heritages around which civilizations revolve. The following three postulates provide the basis for discussion of a number of themes that demonstrate some important consequences. (i) Information transmission through either pathway has thermodynamic components associated with data storage and transmission. (ii) The semantic content adds no additional thermodynamic cost. (iii) For all semantic exchange, meaning is accessible only through translation and interpretation, and has a value only in context. (1) For both pathways of semantic inheritance, translational and copying machineries are imperfect. As a consequence both pathways are subject to mutation and to evolutionary pressure by selection. Recognition of semantic content as a common component allows an understanding of the relationship between genes and memes, and a reformulation of Universal Darwinism. (2) The emergent properties of life are dependent on a processing of semantic content. The translational steps allow amplification in complexity through combinatorial possibilities in space and time. Amplification depends on the increased potential for complexity opened by 3D interaction specificity of proteins, and on the selection of useful variants by evolution. The initial interpretational steps include protein synthesis, molecular recognition, and catalytic potential that facilitate structural and functional roles. Combinatorial possibilities are extended through interactions of increasing complexity in the temporal dimension. (3) All living things show a behavior that indicates awareness of time, or chronognosis. The ∼4 billion years of biological evolution have given rise to forms with increasing sophistication in sensory adaptation. This has been linked to the development of an increasing chronognostic range, and an associated increase in combinatorial complexity. (4) Development of a modern human phenotype and the ability to communicate through language, led to the development of archival storage, and invention of the basic skills, institutions and mechanisms that allowed the evolution of modern civilizations. Combinatorial amplification at the supra-phenotypical level arose from the invention of syntax, grammar, numbers, and the subsequent developments of abstraction in writing, algorithms, etc. The translational machineries of the human mind, the “mutation” of ideas therein, and the “conversations” of our social intercourse, have allowed a limited set of symbolic descriptors to evolve into an exponentially expanding semantic heritage. (5) The three postulates above open interesting epistemological questions. An understanding of topics such dualism, the élan vital, the status of hypothesis in science, memetics, the nature of consciousness, the role of semantic processing in the survival of societies, and Popper's three worlds, require recognition of an insubstantial component. By recognizing a necessary linkage between semantic content and a physical machinery, we can bring these perennial problems into the framework of a realistic philosophy. It is suggested, following Popper, that the ∼4 billion years of evolution of the biosphere represents an exploration of the nature of reality at the physicochemical level, which, together with the conscious extension of this exploration through science and culture, provides a firm epistemological underpinning for such a philosophy.
DNA; genotype; evolution; chronognosis; semantic content; Popper; evolutionary epistemology; memes
Constructive neutral evolution (CNE) suggests that neutral evolution may follow a stepwise path to extravagance. Whether or not CNE is common, the mere possibility raises provocative questions about causation: in classical neo-Darwinian thinking, selection is the sole source of creativity and direction, the only force that can cause trends or build complex features. However, much of contemporary evolutionary genetics departs from the conception of evolution underlying neo-Darwinism, resulting in a widening gap between what formal models allow, and what the prevailing view of the causes of evolution suggests. In particular, a mutationist conception of evolution as a 2-step origin-fixation process has been a source of theoretical innovation for 40 years, appearing not only in the Neutral Theory, but also in recent breakthroughs in modeling adaptation (the “mutational landscape” model), and in practical software for sequence analysis. In this conception, mutation is not a source of raw materials, but an agent that introduces novelty, while selection is not an agent that shapes features, but a stochastic sieve. This view, which now lays claim to important theoretical, experimental, and practical results, demands our attention. CNE provides a way to explore its most significant implications about the role of variation in evolution.
Alex Kondrashov, Eugene Koonin and Johann Peter Gogarten reviewed this article.
Evolutionary theory; Constructive neutral evolution; Neo-Darwinism; Mutation; Evolutionary genetics; Mutation bias; Modern Synthesis
The acceptance of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is not complete and it has been pointed out its limitation to explain the complex processes that constitute the transformation of species. It is necessary to discuss the explaining power of the dominant paradigm. It is common that new discoveries bring about contradictions that are intended to be overcome by adjusting results to the dominant reductionist paradigm using all sorts of gradations and combinations that are admitted for each case. In addition to the discussion on the validity of natural selection, modern findings represent a challenge to the interpretation of the observations with the Darwinian view of competition and struggle for life as theoretical basis. New holistic interpretations are emerging related to the Net of Life, in which the interconnection of ecosystems constitutes a dynamic and self-regulating biosphere: viruses are recognized as a macroorganism with a huge collection of genes, most unknown that constitute the major planet's gene pool. They play a fundamental role in evolution since their sequences are capable of integrating into the genomes in an “infective” way and become an essential part of multicellular organisms. They have content with “biological sense” i.e., they appear as part of normal life processes and have a serious role as carrier elements of complex genetic information. Antibiotics are cell signals with main effects on general metabolism and transcription on bacterial cells and communities. The hologenome theory considers an organism and all of its associated symbiotic microbes (parasites, mutualists, synergists, amensalists) as a result of symbiopoiesis. Microbes, helmints, that are normally understood as parasites are cohabitants and they have cohabited with their host and drive the evolution and existence of the partners. Each organism is the result of integration of complex systems. The eukaryotic organism is the result of combination of bacterial, virus, and eukaryotic DNA and it is the result of the interaction of its own genome with the genome of its microbiota, and their metabolism are intertwined (as a “superorganism”) along evolution. The darwinian paradigm had its origin in the free market theories and concepts of Malthus and Spencer. Then, nature was explained on the basis of market theories moving away from an accurate explanation of natural phenomena. It is necessary to acknowledge the limitations of the dominant dogma. These new interpretations about biological processes, molecules, roles of viruses in nature, and microbial interactions are remarkable points to be considered in order to construct a solid theory adjusted to the facts and with less speculations and tortuous semantic traps.
Darwinism; natural selection; evolution; paradigm; virus; hologenome; autopoiesis
Traditional investigations of the evolution of human social and political institutions trace their ancestry back to nineteenth century social scientists such as Herbert Spencer, and have concentrated on the increase in socio-political complexity over time. More recent studies of cultural evolution have been explicitly informed by Darwinian evolutionary theory and focus on the transmission of cultural traits between individuals. These two approaches to investigating cultural change are often seen as incompatible. However, we argue that many of the defining features and assumptions of ‘Spencerian’ cultural evolutionary theory represent testable hypotheses that can and should be tackled within a broader ‘Darwinian’ framework. In this paper we apply phylogenetic comparative techniques to data from Austronesian-speaking societies of Island South-East Asia and the Pacific to test hypotheses about the mode and tempo of human socio-political evolution. We find support for three ideas often associated with Spencerian cultural evolutionary theory: (i) political organization has evolved through a regular sequence of forms, (ii) increases in hierarchical political complexity have been more common than decreases, and (iii) political organization has co-evolved with the wider presence of hereditary social stratification.
social evolution; phylogenetic comparative methods; cultural evolution; cultural phylogenetics; evolutionism; evolutionary trend
There is increasing evidence that Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection provides insights into the etiology and treatment of cancer. On a microscopic scale, neoplastic cells meet the conditions for evolution by Darwinian selection: cell reproduction with heritable variability that affects cell survival and replication. This suggests that, like other areas of biological and biomedical research, Darwinian theory can provide a general framework for understanding many aspects of cancer, including problems of great clinical importance. With the availability of raw molecular data increasing rapidly, this theory may provide guidance in translating data into understanding and progress. Several conceptual and analytical tools from evolutionary biology can be applied to cancer biology. Two clinical problems may benefit most from the application of Darwinian theory: neoplastic progression and acquired therapeutic resistance. The Darwinian theory of cancer has especially profound implications for drug development, both in terms of explaining past difficulties, and pointing the way toward new approaches. Because cancer involves complex evolutionary processes, research should incorporate both tractable (simplified) experimental systems, and also longitudinal observational studies of the evolutionary dynamics of cancer in laboratory animals and in human patients. Cancer biology will require new tools to control the evolution of neoplastic cells.
acquired drug resistance; cancer progression; drug development; natural selection; neoplasms; somatic evolution; stem cells; transdisciplinary research
Acanthamoeba polyphaga Mimivirus has been subcultured 150 times on germ-free amoebae. This allopatric niche is very different from that found in the natural environment, where the virus is in competition with many other organisms. In this experiment, substantial gene variability and loss occurred concurrently with the emergence of phenotypically different viruses. We sought to quantify the respective roles of Lamarckian and Darwinian evolution during this experiment. We postulated that the Mimivirus genes that were down-regulated at the beginning of the allopatric laboratory culture and inactivated after 150 passages experienced Lamarckian evolution because phenotypic modifications preceded genotypic modifications, whereas we considered that genes that were highly transcribed in the new niche but were later inactivated obeyed Darwinian rules. We used the total transcript abundances and sequences described for the genes of Mimivirus at the beginning of its laboratory life and after 150 passages in allopatric culture on Acanthamoeba spp. We found a statistically significant positive correlation between the level of gene expression at the beginning of the culture and gene inactivation during the 150 passages. In particular, the mean transcript abundance at baseline was significantly lower for inactivated genes than for unchanged genes (165 ± 589 vs. 470 ± 1,625; p < 1e–3), and the mean transcript levels during the replication cycle of Mimivirus M1 were up to 8.5-fold lower for inactivated genes than for unchanged genes. In addition, proteins tended to be less frequently identified from purified virions in their early life in allopatric laboratory culture if they were encoded by variable genes than if they were encoded by conserved genes (9 vs. 15%; p = 0.062). Finally, Lamarckian evolution represented the evolutionary process encountered by 63% of the inactivated genes. Such observations may be explained by the lower level of DNA repair of useless genes.
Mimivirus; Lamarckian evolution; Darwinian evolution; gene expression profile; transcription profile; genome reduction; allopatry
The discussion regarding the evolution of aging is almost as old as Darwinian Evolution Theory, but to date, it has remained one of biology’s unresolved problems. One issue is how to reconcile natural selection, which is understood as a process that purges deleterious characteristics, with senescence, which seems to offer no advantages to the individual.
A computer simulation that illustrates an evolutionary mechanism for the development of senescence in populations is presented.
In this article, we debate that two popular explanations for the existence of senescence, namely, (1) the removal of elders for the benefit of the species and (2) the progressive deterioration of the organic machine due to continuous use, are not correct. While human populations continue to age, it is important that the physician understands that senescence, here defined as the progressive impairment of an organism, does not necessarily accompany aging, which we here define as the mere passage of time. As such, we argue that certain processes that were originally assumed to be part of aging should have their status changed because they are actually diseases. Physicians often encounter situations that depend on a better understanding of what limitations senescence imposes on most living species. The concepts of aging (the unavoidable passage of time), senescence (progressive physiologic impairment), and senility (the pathological development of diseases), are discussed.
Evolution; Senility; Cellular automata; Mutation accumulation; Computer simulation
The evolutionary puzzle of cooperation describes situations where cooperators provide a fitness benefit to other individuals at some cost to themselves. Under Darwinian selection, the evolution of cooperation is a conundrum, whereas non-cooperation (or defection) is not. In the absence of supporting mechanisms, cooperators perform poorly and decrease in abundance. Evolutionary game theory provides a powerful mathematical framework to address the problem of cooperation using the prisoner’s dilemma. One well-studied possibility to maintain cooperation is to consider structured populations, where each individual interacts only with a limited subset of the population. This enables cooperators to form clusters such that they are more likely to interact with other cooperators instead of being exploited by defectors. Here we present a detailed analysis of how a few cooperators invade and expand in a world of defectors. If the invasion succeeds, the expansion process takes place in two stages: first, cooperators and defectors quickly establish a local equilibrium and then they uniformly expand in space. The second stage provides good estimates for the global equilibrium frequencies of cooperators and defectors. Under hospitable conditions, cooperators typically form a single, ever growing cluster interspersed with specks of defectors, whereas under more hostile conditions, cooperators form isolated, compact clusters that minimize exploitation by defectors. We provide the first quantitative assessment of the way cooperators arrange in space during invasion and find that the macroscopic properties and the emerging spatial patterns reveal information about the characteristics of the underlying microscopic interactions.
evolutionary game theory; cooperation; spatial games; prisoner’s dilemma; invasion
The matching of two-dimensional shapes is an important problem with many applications in anthropology. Examples of objects that anthropologists are interested in classifying, clustering and indexing based on shape include bone fragments, projectile points (arrowheads/spearpoints), petroglyphs and ceramics. Interest in matching such objects originates from the fundamental question for many biological anthropologists and archaeologists: how can we best quantify differences and similarities? This interest is fuelled in part by a movement that notes: ‘an increasing number of archaeologists are showing interest in employing Darwinian evolutionary theory to explain variation in the material record’. Aiding such research efforts with computers requires a shape similarity measure that is invariant to many distortions, including scale, offset, noise, partial occlusion, etc. Most of these distortions are relatively easy to handle, either in the representation of the data or in the similarity measure used. However, rotation invariance seems to be uniquely difficult. Current approaches typically try to achieve rotation invariance in the representation of the data, at the expense of poor discrimination ability, or in the distance measure, at the expense of efficiency. In this work, we show that we can take the slow but accurate approaches and dramatically speed them up. On real world problems, our technique can take current approaches and make them four orders of magnitude faster, without false dismissals. Moreover, our technique can be used with any of the dozens of existing shape representations and with all the most popular distance measures, including Euclidean distance, dynamic time warping and longest common subsequence. We show the applications of our work to several important problems in anthropology, including clustering and indexing of skulls, projectile points and petroglyphs.
shape; indexing; rotation invariance; dynamic time warping; anthropology
Organic chemistry on a planetary scale is likely to have transformed carbon dioxide and reduced carbon species delivered to an accreting Earth. According to various models for the origin of life on Earth, biological molecules that jump-started Darwinian evolution arose via this planetary chemistry. The grandest of these models assumes that ribonucleic acid (RNA) arose prebiotically, together with components for compartments that held it and a primitive metabolism that nourished it. Unfortunately, it has been challenging to identify possible prebiotic chemistry that might have created RNA. Organic molecules, given energy, have a well-known propensity to form multiple products, sometimes referred to collectively as “tar” or “tholin.” These mixtures appear to be unsuited to support Darwinian processes, and certainly have never been observed to spontaneously yield a homochiral genetic polymer. To date, proposed solutions to this challenge either involve too much direct human intervention to satisfy many in the community, or generate molecules that are unreactive “dead ends” under standard conditions of temperature and pressure. Carbohydrates, organic species having carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms in a ratio of 1:2:1 and an aldehyde or ketone group, conspicuously embody this challenge. They are components of RNA and their reactivity can support both interesting spontaneous chemistry as part of a “carbohydrate world,” but they also easily form mixtures, polymers and tars. We describe here the latest thoughts on how on this challenge, focusing on how it might be resolved using minerals containing borate, silicate, and molybdate, inter alia.
Borates, silicates, and other minerals may have promoted prebiotic chemical reactions in which organic molecules produced RNA, rather than “dead end” polymers and tars.
Kuntiz-type toxins (KTTs) have been found in the venom of animals such as snake, cone snail and sea anemone. The main ancestral function of Kunitz-type proteins was the inhibition of a diverse array of serine proteases, while toxic activities (such as ion-channel blocking) were developed under a variety of Darwinian selection pressures. How new functions were grafted onto an old protein scaffold and what effect Darwinian selection pressures had on KTT evolution remains a puzzle.
Here we report the presence of a new superfamily of KTTs in spiders (Tarantulas: Ornithoctonus huwena and Ornithoctonus hainana), which share low sequence similarity to known KTTs and is clustered in a distinct clade in the phylogenetic tree of KTT evolution. The representative molecule of spider KTTs, HWTX-XI, purified from the venom of O. huwena, is a bi-functional protein which is a very potent trypsin inhibitor (about 30-fold more strong than BPTI) as well as a weak Kv1.1 potassium channel blocker. Structural analysis of HWTX-XI in 3-D by NMR together with comparative function analysis of 18 expressed mutants of this toxin revealed two separate sites, corresponding to these two activities, located on the two ends of the cone-shape molecule of HWTX-XI. Comparison of non-synonymous/synonymous mutation ratios (ω) for each site in spider and snake KTTs, as well as PBTI like body Kunitz proteins revealed high Darwinian selection pressure on the binding sites for Kv channels and serine proteases in snake, while only on the proteases in spider and none detected in body proteins, suggesting different rates and patterns of evolution among them. The results also revealed a series of key events in the history of spider KTT evolution, including the formation of a novel KTT family (named sub-Kuntiz-type toxins) derived from the ancestral native KTTs with the loss of the second disulfide bridge accompanied by several dramatic sequence modifications.
These finding illustrate that the two activity sites of Kunitz-type toxins are functionally and evolutionally independent and provide new insights into effects of Darwinian selection pressures on KTT evolution, and mechanisms by which new functions can be grafted onto old protein scaffolds.
Our current understanding of evolution is so tightly linked to template-dependent replication of DNA and RNA molecules that the old idea from Oparin of a self-reproducing 'garbage bag' ('coacervate') of chemicals that predated fully-fledged cell-like entities seems to be farfetched to most scientists today. However, this is exactly the kind of scheme we propose for how Darwinian evolution could have occurred prior to template replication.
We cannot confirm previous claims that autocatalytic sets of organic polymer molecules could undergo evolution in any interesting sense by themselves. While we and others have previously imagined inhibition would result in selectability, we found that it produced multiple attractors in an autocatalytic set that cannot be selected for. Instead, we discovered that if general conditions are satisfied, the accumulation of adaptations in chemical reaction networks can occur. These conditions are the existence of rare reactions producing viable cores (analogous to a genotype), that sustains a molecular periphery (analogous to a phenotype).
We conclude that only when a chemical reaction network consists of many such viable cores, can it be evolvable. When many cores are enclosed in a compartment there is competition between cores within the same compartment, and when there are many compartments, there is between-compartment competition due to the phenotypic effects of cores and their periphery at the compartment level. Acquisition of cores by rare chemical events, and loss of cores at division, allows macromutation, limited heredity and selectability, thus explaining how a poor man's natural selection could have operated prior to genetic templates. This is the only demonstration to date of a mechanism by which pre-template accumulation of adaptation could occur.
This article was reviewed by William Martin and Eugene Koonin.
origin of life; prebiotic evolution; chemical evolution; catalytic reaction networks; autocatalytic sets; replicators; protocells; metabolism-first theory of origin of life
Culture pervades human lives and has allowed our species to create niches all around the world and its oceans, in ways quite unlike any other primate. Indeed, our cultural nature appears so distinctive that it is often thought to separate humanity from the rest of nature and the Darwinian forces that shape it. A contrary view arises through the recent discoveries of a diverse range of disciplines, here brought together to illustrate the scope of a burgeoning field of cultural evolution and to facilitate cross-disciplinary fertilization. Each approach emphasizes important linkages between culture and evolutionary biology rather than quarantining one from the other. Recent studies reveal that processes important in cultural transmission are more widespread and significant across the animal kingdom than earlier recognized, with important implications for evolutionary theory. Recent archaeological discoveries have pushed back the origins of human culture to much more ancient times than traditionally thought. These developments suggest previously unidentified continuities between animal and human culture. A third new array of discoveries concerns the later diversification of human cultures, where the operations of Darwinian-like processes are identified, in part, through scientific methods borrowed from biology. Finally, surprising discoveries have been made about the imprint of cultural evolution in the predispositions of human minds for cultural transmission.
culture; cultural evolution; traditions; social learning; human evolution; cognition
Every medical phenomenon has both a mechanistic explanation and an evolutionary explanation. Veterinarians are accustomed to dealing with the mechanistic, the “what” or the “how”, of various disease conditions, and applying treatment accordingly. Darwinian medicine is a field that addresses the evolutionary explanation, the “why” for various medical conditions. This review focuses on these Darwinian explanations and is divided into 4 main categories — host defenses, virulence, genetic conflict, and incomplete adaptation to a changing environment. Each of these areas is reviewed, with examples of evolutionary reasons for disease conditions. Consideration of adaptationist reasons for many of these disease phenomena should make veterinarians better clinicians, educators, and researchers.
Gene and genome duplication events increase the amount of genetic material that might then contribute to an increase in the genomic and phenotypic complexity of organisms during evolution. Thus, it has been argued that there is a relationship between gene copy number and morphological complexity and/or species diversity. This hypothesis implies that duplicated genes have subdivided or evolved novel functions compared to their pre-duplication proto-orthologs. Such a functional divergence might be caused by an increase in evolutionary rates in one ortholog, by changes in expression, regulatory evolution, insertion of repetitive elements, or due to positive Darwinian selection in one copy. We studied a set of 2466 genes that were present in Danio rerio, Takifugu rubripes, Tetraodon nigroviridis and Oryzias latipes to test (i) for forces of positive Darwinian selection; (ii) how frequently duplicated genes are retained, and (iii) whether novel gene functions might have evolved.
25% (610) of all investigated genes show significantly smaller or higher genetic distances in the genomes of particular fish species compared to their human ortholog than their orthologs in other fish according to relative rate tests. We identified 49 new paralogous pairs of duplicated genes in fish, in which one of the paralogs is under positive Darwinian selection and shows a significantly higher rate of molecular evolution in one of the four fish species, whereas the other copy apparently did not undergo adaptive changes since it retained the original rate of evolution. Among the genes under positive Darwinian selection, we found a surprisingly high number of ATP binding proteins and transcription factors.
The significant rate difference suggests that the function of these rate-changed genes might be essential for the respective fish species. We demonstrate that the measurement of positive selection is a powerful tool to identify divergence rates of duplicated genes and that this method has the capacity to identify potentially interesting candidates for adaptive gene evolution.
Species are generally viewed by evolutionists as ‘real’ distinct entities in nature, making speciation appear difficult. Charles Darwin had originally promoted a very different uniformitarian view that biological species were continuous with ‘varieties’ below the level of species and became distinguishable from them only when divergent natural selection led to gaps in the distribution of morphology. This Darwinian view on species came under immediate attack, and the consensus among evolutionary biologists today appears to side more with the ideas of Ernst Mayr and Theodosius Dobzhansky, who argued 70 years ago that Darwin was wrong about species. Here, I show how recent genetic studies of supposedly well-behaved animals, such as insects and vertebrates, including our own species, have supported the existence of the Darwinian continuum between varieties and species. Below the level of species, there are well-defined ecological races, while above the level of species, hybridization still occurs, and may often lead to introgression and, sometimes, hybrid speciation. This continuum is evident, not only across vast geographical regions, but also locally in sympatry. The existence of this continuum provides good evidence for gradual evolution of species from ecological races and biotypes, to hybridizing species and, ultimately, to species that no longer cross. Continuity between varieties and species not only provides an excellent argument against creationism, but also gives insight into the process of speciation. The lack of a hiatus between species and ecological races suggests that speciation may occur, perhaps frequently, in sympatry, and the abundant intermediate stages suggest that it is happening all around us. Speciation is easy!
hybridization; speciation; species concepts
The origin of the sporophyte in land plants represents a fundamental phase in plant evolution. Today this subject is controversial, and scarcely considered in textbooks and journals of botany, in spite of its importance. There are two conflicting theories concerning the origin of the alternating generations in land-plants: the “antithetic” theory and the “homologous” theory. These have never been fully resolved, although, on the ground of the evidences on the probable ancestors of land plants, the antithetic theory is considered more plausible than the homologous theory. However, additional phylogenetic dilemmas are the evolution of bryophytes from algae and the transition from these first land plants to the pteridophytes. All these very large evolutionary jumps are discussed on the basis of the phyletic gradualist neo-Darwinian theory and other genetic evolutionary mechanisms.
alternating generations; bryophytes; evolution; green algae; pteridophytes; sporophyte origin