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Biotech Science

Scientists Discover Proteins Controlling Evolution 436

Posted by samzenpus
from the let-the-flamewar-begin dept.
Khemisty writes "Evolutionary changes are supposed to take place gradually and randomly, under pressure from natural selection. But a team of Princeton scientists investigating a group of proteins that help cells burn energy stumbled across evidence that this is not how evolution works. In fact, their discovery could revolutionize the way we understand evolutionary processes. They have evidence that organisms actually have the ability to control their own evolution."
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Scientists Discover Proteins Controlling Evolution

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  • by ScrewMaster (602015) * on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @10:13PM (#25742411)
    can the human race auto-evolve itself larger penises?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I can see the spam now...

      And for now, only one time deal! You get BIG for LITTLE. Mircale drug for REAL results. Of this you can be. HAh. Hahhh.

    • by kandela (835710) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @10:26PM (#25742501)
      The article says the proteins were correcting any imbalance imposed on them through artificial mutations, constantly restoring the chain to working order. If this is true I do not expect to see larger penises as the result. In fact, given the brain-penis balance displayed by your post the proteins should be working to reduce your penis size.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by ScrewMaster (602015) *

        The article says the proteins were correcting any imbalance imposed on them through artificial mutations, constantly restoring the chain to working order. If this is true I do not expect to see larger penises as the result. In fact, given the brain-penis balance displayed by your post the proteins should be working to reduce your penis size.

        Ouch.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by slashnot007 (576103)

        The article says the proteins were correcting any imbalance imposed on them through artificial mutations, constantly restoring the chain to working order. If this is true I do not expect to see larger penises as the result. In fact, given the brain-penis balance displayed by your post the proteins should be working to reduce your penis size.

        While your post is humorous, the funny thing is the original poster had a point. If the only thing keeping my penis small is a feedback loop, then it should not be too hard to create a drug that interrupts that feedback loop. The downside of course is that still does not create the desired mutation in me. Nor even in my children since eggs are all created at a young age.

        • by kandela (835710) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @11:28PM (#25742901)

          Nor even in my children since eggs are all created at a young age.

          If you are looking at increasing your penis size I'm guessing you are male. So I don't see what eggs have to do with it.

        • by adamchou (993073) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @11:30PM (#25742911)

          If the only thing keeping my penis small is a feedback loop

          just a tip, you might want to check the box "Post Anonymously" next time you want to post some damning information about yourself.

        • by philspear (1142299) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @04:10AM (#25744345)

          If the only thing keeping my penis small is a feedback loop, then it should not be too hard to create a drug that interrupts that feedback loop.

          I hate to be "that guy" who talks embryology when discussing the next big breakthrough in spam ads, but pretty much everything in embryonic development seems to be controlled by several different fundamental systems. The same signaling pathways that regulate how many layers of skin you grow in utero are the same signaling pathways used to control development of your intestines and brain, to name a few.

          That becomes a more complex problem than even the ethics involved in designer babies: you mess with one thing, it usually has serious consequences elsewhere. So if you were to find the feedback loop and break it, it would likely cause severe developmental problems.

          Even if you did manage to not mess up other development, there could still be indirect issues. Brain development is one area that human evolution seems to have pushed of course. An interesting book by Carl Sagan points out that the size of babies' heads seems to be bigger than women's pelvises were designed to handle, but they're already pretty much at their limits as well: any bigger and women would have a hard time walking. It also points out that humans seem to be in the minority when it comes to pain during birth.

          In other words, the human brain is already somewhat too big for our own good. Fortunately for the species and men in particular, that's mostly an issue that women have to compensate for at very limited times.

          With the other thing, that might not be the case. The most obvious negative consequence there would be if you were so huge you were no longer physically able to mate.

    • by syousef (465911)

      We already have the largest genitals of any primate. (Not to mention some humans have a second one sitting on their shoulders). Just how big did you want it to be? Besides anything that's not used to penetrate is wasted and in the way.

      • by Swizec (978239)

        Besides anything that's not used to penetrate is wasted and in the way.

        Oh who cares about length anymore! That's so old school, just give me more thickness!

        • That's so old school, just give me more thickness!

          I think the word you are looking for is girth [reference.com]

          • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

            by Justabit (651314)

            The classic joke goes..

            The man gets a call from a telemarketer promising to make his penis up to 9 iches using their revolutionary new technique.

            so he says "I don't care how good your technique is, your not removing 3 inches from MY penis"! *crickets*

            Hello?

            Is this thing on?

    • by passion (84900)
      Only if the men with short ones fail to reproduce, so this would be up to the ladies to decide this.
    • You mean, even bigger than Dick Cheney?

    • The answer is yes.

    • That's actually how those treatments work that they talk about in all the spam. Scientists are finally catching on.

  • So... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BerntB (584621) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @10:16PM (#25742429)
    Life has evolved to be good at evolving? Sounds logical, organisms that increase mutation speed depending on environment should have an advantage.
    • Re:So... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Brian Gordon (987471) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @10:21PM (#25742473)
      As I understand it, this is just another way for changes to occur. We already know how miniscule molecules of DNA effect large-scale changes on an organism.. apparently this is just a series of proteins that can mutate somewhat nondestructively to change the organism.
      • Re:So... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Cassius Corodes (1084513) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @10:37PM (#25742589)
        Reading the article, my guess is that this is a lot of nonsense that is going to leave the authors with red faces.

        "What they are saying is that evolution is not entirely random, as Darwin believed"

        WTF?? Darwin was the one that explained the process FFS! This more than anything shows that the authors have no idea what they are talking about. Expect to see it in the next Discovery Institute press release.
        • Yeah "Darwin was wrong, with modern science and our -ahem- quite brilliant intellects, we have invented a superior theory" is a bit sensational.
        • Re:So... (Score:5, Informative)

          by TapeCutter (624760) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @01:17AM (#25743525) Journal
          Agreed, and what's this in the summary about evolution progressing "smoothly". I belive that the late S.J. Gould demonstrated that it actually proceeds in spurts or maybe it was Dawkins. Regardless of who's idea it was it has been known for quite a while that evolution is not a nice smmoth curve.

          Besides that, the concept of "species" is just an abitrary way of cataloging life that took off when the English started cataloging everything they could find, live or dead. Today there is far more interest in figuring out how cells self-oraginse over time. Oddly enough the disipline of 'network analysis' can be used to track how various cells/molecules interact. One such analysis conducted at Harvard produced this awsome animation [youtube.com] showing the goings on inside an immune cell as it homes in on it's target (motion slowed down 2-3 orders of magnitute).
        • by Anonymous Coward

          Isn't it amazing how creationism changes how we use and understand language? The "entirely random" comment shouldn't cause us to recoil. The mutations were thought to be random, but now there's (supposedly) evidence that there's some kind of rudimentary optimization going on at the mutation level.

          Now add a fanatical creationist movement that attacks "randomness" and uses bad analogies to confuse people. We all know how to rebut those specious arguments, but in doing so we learn to be wary of words like "ran

        • Re:So... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by beelsebob (529313) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @01:48AM (#25743697)

          That's right, science never changes after someone "invents" it. As we all know, Newton (who invented gravity -- we all floated around before then), was dead right about the laws of physics, and that Einstein bloke who came along later didn't manage to refine his position, but instead talked utter crap.

    • by RuBLed (995686)
      The human race had won / fought several big battles in the last century that we should be right at the point of evolving into the next level.
    • Mod up this [slashdot.org] instead. Much more interesting.
    • De-Evolution (Score:3, Insightful)

      by spud.dups (1371655)

      The ambiguity in the language of this report leaves so many possible interpretations that it is impossible to definitively understand what they are even talking about. For example "...proteins were correcting any imbalance imposed on them through artificial mutations, constantly restoring the chain to working order...steering organisms toward evolutionary changes that make the creature fitter."

      Restore means to bring back to a former, original, or normal condition, while fitter has three meaning in the Biol

    • or not.. what the article has found is not just that organisms evolve but also some of them evolve to forms which are not going to evolve any more (think cockroaches) as they dont have the proteins which make them more suited to handle mutations in a favourable manner while other organisms do have these proteins and are better suited for further evolving. Now there may be organisms which evolve to superbly suit their niche in the ecosystem but in the process lose the capacity to further evolve. Such organis

    • Re:So... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Tatarize (682683) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @04:13AM (#25744369) Homepage

      Actually no. Too much randomness and things start falling off the rails. You need the Goldie-locks mutation rate which may be higher or lower depending the genes (end parts of chromosomes are all crap) and population size, etc.

      If you have a tiny population it is less advantageous to take risks with mutants.

      Too high of a mutation rate and you'll lose the structure you already possess. Too little and you'll fail to improve (which isn't so bad if you kick ass).

      I'm not exactly sure how they think this is any different than the many adaptations to preserve fidelity of genetic information which notably does an imperfect job.

      Mutation rate = Evolution rate.

  • AHA! (Score:5, Funny)

    by naz404 (1282810) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @10:17PM (#25742433) Homepage
    Intelligent design!!! This proves it! Mice have been behind everything all along!
  • Homeostasis (Score:5, Informative)

    by Baldrson (78598) * on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @10:18PM (#25742437) Homepage Journal
    RTFA and you'll see that the Princeton boys have discovered homeostasis [wikipedia.org] in gene expression. The hyperbolic rhetoric surrounding their discovery would be more justified if they had actually found something that altered the haploid genetic information of gametes in a homeostatic fashion. And they're insulting to Darwin when they say that he thought that evolution was "totally random". That's like the argument some of the more idiotic creationists make when they talk about taking a bunch of watch parts, shaking them up in a bag and assembling a watch.
    • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @10:34PM (#25742567)

      From TFA:

      "The discovery answers an age-old question that has puzzled biologists since the time of Darwin: How can organisms be so exquisitely complex, if evolution is completely random, operating like a 'blind watchmaker'?" said Chakrabarti, an associate research scholar in the Department of Chemistry at Princeton.

      No, it was never "completely random".

      The changes MUST result in a viable individual.

      Stillbirths and miscarriages do NOT contribute mutations to the gene pool.

      Please tell me that he was quoted incorrectly.

      • by holloway (46404) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @11:04PM (#25742769) Homepage

        The changes MUST result in a viable individual.

        Exactly, which is why Crocoducks [freethoughtpedia.com] roam our streets, eating bananas [youtube.com] dipped in peanut butter [youtube.com] made by witches [youtube.com] and ergo God is a white guy in white robes with gold piping.

      • Whether or not the mutations result in viable carriers of those mutations does not change the nature of the mutations.

        Your attempt to exclude some of the mutations from the pool, thereby resulting in mutations being something less than random is not valid.

        The mutations may or may not result in a viable organism which may or may not be able to pass on its genetic make-up, but this has nothing to do with the randomness of the mutations themselves.

        Over the long term of course, the result is that only viable mu

    • Maybe I'm missing something, but strip away all the hyperbole about this being news and to me all they've (re)discovered is that evolution tends to be smarter and more imaginative than mathematicians at solving control theory problems.

      An imbalance caused by a mutation would be functionally similar to an imbalance of chemicals in the creature's environment, so I would expect systems that have evolved to be adaptable in the face of variable chemical inputs, as a side effect would tend to be resistant to mutat

    • Contradiction (Score:2, Interesting)

      by xdor (1218206)
      From TFA:

      "[...] concluding that it would be statistically impossible for this self-correcting behavior to be random [...]"

      So these so-called "evolutionary mechanics" are found to exhibit a trait we describe with engineering metaphors.

      But the article discounts the obvious indications of design by a inventing a self-refuting new term "evolutionary control".
      Evolutionary products being "self-correcting" implies two things:

      1. The mutation rates scientists depend on for life to appear in relative short orde
  • Uummmmmm, no. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Taibhsear (1286214) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @10:18PM (#25742439)

    This was found in the electron transport chain, which occurs in the mitochondria, which have their own DNA [wikipedia.org] (circular DNA to be precise). The cell is repairing damaged DNA, the cell does this naturally. It is a defense mechanism and does not signal that the cell is actively controlling its evolution. This correction of the damage will NOT be passed on to the next generation of offspring unless it occurs in the egg or sperm cells (and if it is the mitochondria the sperm cells will also have nothing to do with it as all our mitochondria are inherited by our mother's egg cells). This seems to me to be a headline grabber with little to no actual relevance to the research within.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by S77IM (1371931)

      Mitochondrial DNA has been found to mutate at a much faster rate than nuclear DNA. Wouldn't seem to contradict the researcher's findings that the DNA was resistant to changes? Or, does the supposed self-correction mechanism explain how the mitochondrial DNA can mutate so much without everyone dying of mitochondrial disorders all the time?

    • by esocid (946821)

      This seems to me to be a headline grabber with little to no actual relevance to the research within.

      I gotta agree with you here, the title seems more fluff than anything. Mitochondrial DNA is highly conserved, not to say that they didn't discover a mechanism behind its conservation, but the way I see it, this doesn't appear to redefine what evolution is. DNA has several ways of correcting mutations, this almost sounds analogous to me.

  • Big duh (Score:5, Funny)

    by grub (11606) <slashdot@grub.net> on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @10:19PM (#25742441) Homepage Journal

    How else do you think we were able to evolve this far in just 6,000 years? It wasn't that long ago that the only humans were a gullible man and a rib-woman!
  • ID (Score:3, Funny)

    by againjj (1132651) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @10:19PM (#25742445)
    So, the designer is really just a pile of proteins?
  • old news and a link (Score:5, Informative)

    by Kandenshi (832555) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @10:20PM (#25742451)

    PZ Myers had a bit of commentary on this news on his blog, pharyngula.

    I'd encourage everyone here to read the post [scienceblogs.com], as well as some of the comments from readers below. The press release is self-contradictory, and extremely vague in terms of details. I'm not expecting too much, but like PZ, I'll give the actual paper a read whenever I can find it.

    Who knows, maybe they've found something truly revolutionary... but you can't tell from the press clipping. Ask yourself how often you've seen something science related in the paper, then found out that it bears very little resemblence to reality when you go to read the actual scientist's research papers on the subject? :P

    • Yep, it happens all the time. PZ has an excellent take on it and I wouldn't be at all surprised if he's right. This is science by press release. Let's wait for the actual report (and other scientists' analysis of it) before we come to a conclusion.
    • by zappepcs (820751) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @11:34PM (#25742939) Journal

      I won't be surprised at whatever they find. The point of all that junk DNA is something that we have not fully figured out yet. It has a point, we'll figure it out, along with all the other things we don't yet know.

      I like to think of things as puzzles. I like Lego, so looking at how Lego works often helps me as to get something right you often have to look at the problem from many sides. Additionally, putting Lego together has rules. If you don't know all the rules, you'll not be so good at putting the pieces together as you need them to be. More importantly, just because you think you know how to put the pieces together does not mean that someone else will not come up with another way to put them together slightly differently to achieve twice what you have. Lego has a lot of special pieces. When you work with them, eventually you find that 'hey, if I use it like this I can make x, y, and z that I could not make before.'

      That's the thing with human biology. Every new discovery is like finding a new way to use a Lego piece. We know about enzymes, proteins and many other things. What we don't know is probably more than what we think we know already. Think of it, two 'normal' people have 4 kids together. Only one of them is autistic. How did that happen? A very small change can make a big difference. We don't even have to bring a deity into it. Chemical processes control all this. I think that we will find a great many more things with such research. It's quite possible that a small genetic change could make us impervious to cancers, colds, etc. A small genetic change could create hugely extended life spans, or even alter physiques. We have very big people and very small. Size is not always inherited in humans.

      That these researchers found something that could control or propagate genetic changes or mutations should hardly be seen as surprising. It is very likely that such controlling factors are reactive to environmental input to the human body. That is to say, that extended input such as diet, climate, stresses, activities, and many other things can over time affect how these controller factors affect offspring. I cannot find any comparison to DNA taken from thousands years old samples and samples from post-x gen DNA. There has to be significant differences between hunting all day for food every day, and sitting around playing video games most of your spare time.

      That feedback system spoken of has to be there for adaptation to work. It is not IMO possible for humans to evolve in so many flavors without a feedback mechanism. We recognize that skin color and some other factors are evidently borne of environmental issues from long ago. Where in the human body was the feedback mechanism? Lacking some feedback method, we have to rely on some other outside factor regularly causing mutations, some of which lasted to this day. That does not seem probable in the view of the lack of regular changes seen in the human race. Albinos might represent something like that, but we know that to be something less complex. We just don't see odd mutations on any regular basis. So if perhaps random chance was to be making the changes we should have seen something other than deformities and disease by now.

      The thought that the world population is moving toward a planet populated with "little brown people" might be right as the gene pool gets more mixed.... if there are no climate or diet changes that are drastic enough to cause feedback.

      Enough babbling, I just don't find this surprising. I wait for more information and more discoveries... with great anticipation and more patience than a watchmaker.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by smellsofbikes (890263)

        >The point of all that junk DNA is something that we have not fully figured out yet. It has a point, we'll figure it out, along with all the other things we don't yet know.

        Some of that junk is, indeed, just junk -- it's crap we (as a species, and even across all mammals or all vertebrates) picked up from retroviruses millions of years ago, just long repeats of viral genomes.
        The tricky bit is that some of *that* stuff we've started to use. Mitochondria, themselves, are a case study. They were originally

  • by lgordon (103004) <larry@gordon.gmail@com> on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @10:25PM (#25742499) Journal

    If the feedback doesn't alter the DNA itself, then there's no "smart evolution." It's just an evolutionary consequence to a gazillion random mutations. As an "improved natural selector" it seems less so, as the consequence of this is that organisms are more able to adapt to changing conditions. If the conditions change rapidly enough, maybe the feedback effect allows the organism to live, but not thrive, allowing for further random mutations to allow it to outperform its peers in the new environment.

  • by bcn17 (1390121) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @10:27PM (#25742509)
    This doesn't go against evolution at all. It simply means that a system has evolved that checks for errors in a very conserved process (the electron transport chain) because if it wasn't conserved then the species would be less fit (less offspring) and die out. It's important to note that evolution is a change in allele frequencies of a population. So this electron transport problem control system is not actively changing allele frequencies. It is simply accounting for problems that arise and letting the organism be fit when it might otherwise not because of some sort of deleterious mutation.
    • by Chris Burke (6130)

      This doesn't go against evolution at all. It simply means that a system has evolved that checks for errors in a very conserved process (the electron transport chain) because if it wasn't conserved then the species would be less fit (less offspring) and die out. It's important to note that evolution is a change in allele frequencies of a population. So this electron transport problem control system is not actively changing allele frequencies. It is simply accounting for problems that arise and letting the or

  • by phantomfive (622387) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @10:30PM (#25742539) Journal
    The article is light on details, and possibly controversial, but here is the main point:

    In other words, organisms are evolving ways to evolve better.

    This is interesting because matches what I have seen my own brain doing. When I was young, I only learned by watching, listening, and feeling. Then I learned to talk, and could learn by having people explain things to me. Then I learned to read, and I could learn by going to the library, something that was unavailable before.

    These are crude examples, but even now my brain continues to grow and, essentially, learn new ways to learn. Evolution and learning are recursive functions.

  • When I was in school they taught us there were two theories of evolution: Darwin's theory of survival of the fittest, and some nutcase's theory that creatures adapt to their environment and pass those changes down to their children. For example, giraffes stretched their necks to reach food and because they stretched their necks that characteristic was passed down to their children. Sure, the school was just trying to discredit Darwin, but now you're telling me that nutcase's theory has merit?
    • When I was in school they taught us there were two theories of evolution: Darwin's theory of survival of the fittest, and some nutcase's theory that creatures adapt to their environment and pass those changes down to their children. For example, giraffes stretched their necks to reach food and because they stretched their necks that characteristic was passed down to their children. Sure, the school was just trying to discredit Darwin, but now you're telling me that nutcase's theory has merit?

      You're thinking of Lamarckian evolution [wikipedia.org], which is completely unrelated to Wallace's conjecture discussed in the article and remains well-refuted to this day. Lamarckism was supplanted by Darwin's theory of natural selection.

    • The 'nutcase' was named Lamarck [wikipedia.org].. it turns out that yes, his theory does have some merit, though certainly not in the way you describe. It also predates Darwin's by a few years.

      That said, i'm going to leave explaining it to someone more familiar with it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      When I went to school, we also had Lamarckism and Darwinism. The point was not to discredit Darwin. The point was to teach you to be skeptical (both do seem "logical" at first), look at the evidence, set up predictions and check the predictions.

      Lamarckism was at least a scientific theory since it made predictions and was falsifiable. It was falsified, and in class we did so ourself. (Guided by the teacher, of course...)

  • and not just on TV.
  • by Dutchmaan (442553) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @11:14PM (#25742821) Homepage

    That's right folks.. a mutant with the ability to first post!

    Ok, so I still need to master it, but still.

  • The article doesn't mention it, but I wonder how this interacts with retrovirus guided evolution.

    (a random google link: http://www.gnxp.com/blog/2008/02/retroviruses-evolution.php [gnxp.com])

  • Now I just have to figure out how to evolve me some adamantium claws.

  • so it's not a closed system. whose entropy are we increasing in order to control our own evolution?

  • I always knew Darwin was wrong.
    Good try though!

    • That is the point of science, ya know. When data doesn't support theory, theory is revised and everyone cheers.

      Btw: you missed the "in before Creationists jump to invalid conclusions." ;)
      • by Whiteox (919863)

        Exactly! But in the history of /. you've had the Darwinists, the Creationists and the Revisionists and none would give a nanometre away.
        Most of the time it resulted in anger, but as a minor fictional sci-fi character once said: "Anger is the first sign of doubt, and doubt it the first sign of belief, and you my friend are angry!"

        I'm glad that science is so.

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @01:16AM (#25743515)
    "Evolutionary changes are supposed to take place gradually and randomly, under pressure from natural selection."

    WRONG. In fact, this is one of the most common fallacies regarding evolution. It has been known for a very long time now that evolution proceeds in fits and starts... long periods of nothing followed by a burst of changes. This is known as "punctuated equilibrium", and is generally accepted as the standard evolutionary model.

    I almost did not even read the linked article... since the beginning of it seems to be saying that evolution works exactly the way we have long known it to work.

    There are actually some interesting things, there, though. On the other hand, the person who wrote the article obviously does not understand it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by patch0 (1339585)

      This is known as "punctuated equilibrium", and is generally accepted as the standard evolutionary model.

      Actually no it isn't, most evolutionary biologists I know are less than impressed with the idea. Most evolutionary biologists would probably tell you that the rate of evolution varies greatly and that apparent evolutionary stasis (the hallmark of punctuated equilibrium) is probably just a wrinkle in the fossil record.

  • Bad conclusion. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by argent (18001) <peter@nospAM.slashdot.2006.taronga.com> on Thursday November 13, 2008 @01:44AM (#25743681) Homepage Journal

    They discovered that the proteins were correcting any imbalance imposed on them through artificial mutations, constantly restoring the chain to working order.

    This is describing a self-repair mechanism.

    What we have found is that certain kinds of biological structures exist that are able to steer the process of evolution toward improved fitness.

    RESTORING a damaged structure is not the same as STEERING the process of evolution, in fact what is being described is a feedback loop that slows down evolution. It's fairly straightforward to see how this can have evolved: if a section of DNA encodes a gene that is easily made inoperative through minor changes, then an organism in which these changes happen less often is more likely to survive.

    This is no different than (say) biological structures that regulate the temperature of the genitals, reducing the chance of damage to DNA caused by higher temperatures. Like the scrotum.

    This is an interesting mechanism, but it doesn't significantly change the model.

  • Actually, this new finding goes quite well with everything we knew about evolution so far.

    A mechanism that was developed by an evolutionary process that controls evolution? I'm sure many of you heard about another such mechanism before. Many of you even saw documentaries about this process on the internet. Ah yes, sexual reproduction.

    Sexual reproduction does EXACTLY that. This is a mechanism that was developed by an evolutionary process of random mutations and natural selection, and its sole process is to c

  • by Alain Williams (2972) <addw@phcomp.co.uk> on Thursday November 13, 2008 @05:36AM (#25744783) Homepage
    What they seem to suggest is that there is an ability to control the rate of mutations. Presumably in times of stress an organism might allow the rate of mutations to rise which would allow the organism to adapt to the stress.

    The above is the summary for the main stream press, dig a bit deeper and the story is subtly different. The headline could be taken to mean that an organism can control the direction of evolution, this is false: it is the rate of evolution that may be controlled.

    This is akin to controlling the accelerator (gas pedal for those in the USA) not the steering wheel.

    The ''choice'' on direction (good or bad mutation) will only ever be determined by how many grandchildren an organism has. If the mutation is helpful to survival then the greater number of grand kids will preserve the organism; if the mutation is not helpful then there will be fewer grand kids than for the helpful organism and thus the unhelpful mutation will be out competed by the helpful ones and so eventually drop out of the gene pool.

    For many years evolutionists have known that mutation increases in times of stress. They have, however, thought that this was because stress leads to smaller populations in which (beneficial) mutations can propagate more quickly. It is this point that the Princeton paper is all about.

    The trouble with discussion on evolution is that there are subtle arguments for which we do not have concise words to convey, we thus tend to use approximate short cuts but these short cuts bring along a baggage of undesirable implication.

    For instance ''choice'' - no organism chooses good or bad mutations, if it has a bad mutation then it is more likely to die than a brother that has a good mutation. However we all use the word ''choice'' otherwise discussions on evolution would go on forever.

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