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Biotech Science

Scientists Discover Proteins Controlling Evolution 436

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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  • So... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BerntB ( 584621 ) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @11:16PM (#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 @11:21PM (#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.
  • by lgordon ( 103004 ) <larry DOT gordon AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @11:25PM (#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 phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @11:30PM (#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.

  • Re:Big duh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ArcherB ( 796902 ) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @12:00AM (#25742737) Journal

    talk about being a total troll. keep your bigotry to yourself.

    Nah ... Creationists are fair game here on Slashdot. Matter of fact, they're fair game, period.

    If so, you should probably get it right. Not all creationist think that the earth is 6,000 years old. For that matter, very few do. Just like all stereotypes, what very few do gets the entire group labeled.

    Some creationists believe that evolution happened, but is way to complicated to have happened by chance. They point to the idea that 6 billion years is not nearly enough time for earth to form, start life and have it evolve randomly into the many creatures that are living currently, and the many more that are extinct.

    Anyway, the fact that you and the GP lump all creationists together into your worst stereotype of what they can be tells me you are no different than the rednecks that think all (your racial group here) steal, or are lazy/greasy/dirty.

  • Re:Big duh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lysergic.acid ( 845423 ) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @12:18AM (#25742845) Homepage

    making fun of a stupid idea isn't bigotry. you can choose not to believe in irrational backward beliefs/myths. if they sound stupid and don't make a whole lot of sense, then how do you expect people to react to them? bigotry is discriminating against people for things they cannot change. for instance, persecuting someone because of their sexual orientation--that is bigotry.

    being intolerant of ignorance, or criticizing/refuting specious beliefs, isn't cruel or unethical. in fact, it's societally beneficial. it's because our society is too tolerant of ignorance and blatant stupidity that the religious right has gained so much power in the U.S., which has allowed the ID movement to gain so much traction, and to cause religion to impede scientific research. it's also the reason why the U.S. is still "debating" on whether global warming is happening while the governments of other countries are already working hard to attenuate climate change.

  • Re:Big duh (Score:2, Insightful)

    by PuckSR ( 1073464 ) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @12:56AM (#25743065)

    I understand your anger, but I think it is severely misplaced.

    "Creationist" is a term. Terms have definitions. While languages are fluid and definitions can change over time, definitions still exist.

    A Creationist is someone who believes in the biblical "creation". Their are two main subsets of creationism.
    1) Young Earth Creationist(YEC)-believes that the Earth is 6,000 years old
    2) Old Earth Creationist(OEC)-believes that the Earth is much older. OEC argues that the "7 days of creation" were not representative of a standard day, but rather a general term for the passing of time

    Both groups agree on the same basic things:
    God created life
    God created all of the animals
    God created man seperately
    The bible is totally true in its explanation of the beginning

    "Some creationists believe that evolution happened, but is way to complicated to have happened by chance."
    This is absolutely wrong and self-conflicting
    "evolution" implies that random mutations and natural selection were responsible for the outcome.
    If God(or whoever) guided the development of organisms and performed some cosmic form of animal husbandry, then it sure wasn't evolution.

    You seem to really miss the fact that words have specific meanings. You don't get to decide to just co-opt words to do whatever you want.
    Creationism=biblical creation story is 100% true
    Evolution=the unguided change and adaptation of biological organisms

    You can believe whatever you want, but you don't get to make up your own definition for words!

  • Re:Big duh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SteveWoz ( 152247 ) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @01:03AM (#25743105) Homepage

    One problem is that a lot of people try to hang on the 'scientific' label and follow what they hear, the same as those in a church. Thus those governments working hard to attenuate climate change may be enhancing it, by directing resources in wrong directions. If we really understand global warming enough to believe in our models, they should be able to tell us whether a trillion dollars of effort would affect the global temperature by a tenth of a degree. If not, it's a wasteful effort with no observable impact. Look how a corporation makes important expenditure decisions. How much benefit does a certain expenditure result in. Politics is a fun game but is a lot like religion. We pick a side and follow it, right or wrong.

  • Re:Big duh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by blahplusplus ( 757119 ) * on Thursday November 13, 2008 @01:07AM (#25743117)

    "for instance, persecuting someone because of their sexual orientation--that is bigotry."

    So are you saying it's bigotted to discriminate against pedophiles, what about against incest? Technically these are orientations that 'can't be changed'?

  • Re:Big duh (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Twinbee ( 767046 ) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @01:17AM (#25743167) Homepage
    And that is why it attracts scorn here. This is a place for science-types.

    I don't think that's the main reason it attracts scorn. The main reason is simply because most here would not think Creationism, or any of the variants are true at all.
  • Re:So... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 13, 2008 @01:18AM (#25743171)

    "Life has evolved to be good at evolving? "

    It's no longer evolving, it's self engineering.

  • Re:Big duh (Score:2, Insightful)

    by tommy_servo ( 84979 ) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @01:36AM (#25743295) Homepage

    Your only problem is you *assume* laws of logic while attacking the only worldview in which laws of logic make sense. You see you are first assuming the Christian Theistic Worldview, attacking it, and then retreating back into your materialistic worldview which doesn't comport with laws of logic.

    For example, may I ask: given your axioms, your givens, your presuppositions of the universe...does there exist anything non-material? Can abstract entities like "laws" of thought exist given your worldview?

    You may answer, "well laws of logic are just conventions of thought, agreed upon by men." If that's the case--we could all just adopt our own conventional system of logic. You'd see logical societies with their own rules, etc. I could say, "I adopt the convention of logic that says Theism is true, and so I win."

    This is absurd. No one believes that logic is a convention, nor do they treat it as such.

    You could say, "Well, you assume logic, too, so nyah nyah nyah." Which is true, I do assume laws of logic exist. Except **they make sense within my Christian Theistic Worldview.**

    My worldview allows for abstract, universal absolute like laws of logic. The Christian Theistic Worldview is the only worldview I've found that is consistent with human experience.

    Laugh away all you want at Christianity. Try to use logic to argue against it. But the irony is that every time you utilize logic you become your own refutation. You can't escape the Christian Theistic Worldview. You have to assume it to make sense of the world.

  • De-Evolution (Score:3, Insightful)

    by spud.dups ( 1371655 ) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @02:03AM (#25743445)

    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 Biological sense: 1.being adapted to the prevailing conditions and producing offspring that survive to reproductive age; 2.contributing genetic information to the gene pool of the next generation; 3.(of a population) maintaining or increasing the group's numbers in the environment. The only definition that could work in context is "being adapted to the prevailing conditions." Proteins restoring the original information does not imply adaptation. I would say more of a self-preservation mechanism.

    If to say, the cell is repairing itself as mutations are found, is nothing new. As far as I remember correctly, as the DNA is being copied it is also checked for irregularities. So wouldn't that mean the biological system is geared to prevent some parts of the mutation process?

    To say the cell is recoding itself to make itself "stronger" or more adaptable to the environment, is that completely logical? Mutations can be caused by accidental DNA replication, or environmental affects. So what stimulus is the process receiving to create a "better" version of itself? What I'm trying to say is that without environmental effects the cell could be reorganizing itself into oblivion.

    I enjoy this video []. It's a very visual approach for people like me who really don't understand a whole lot about the complexity of the cell. In my opinion, for all the particle accelerators and spaceships we have, nothing comes close to this. And one last philosophical question. What determines randomness and order?

  • Re:So... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 13, 2008 @02:09AM (#25743475)

    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.

    Just because Darwin first observed the process of evolution does not mean he was right about the mechanics behind it. Of course the authors know who darwin is... They're claiming that darwin may have been wrong or at least incomplete in his theory explaining the process of evolution.

  • by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @02:16AM (#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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 13, 2008 @02:18AM (#25743529)

    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 "random" in the context of evolution. In fact, both articles go through pains to point out that this discovery doesn't support creationism - a fact that should be self-evident.

    And now we're complaining on slashdot about how a scientist uses words that were co-opted by creationists. I look forward to the day when creationism is universally recognized as a myth, and we can discuss evolutionary science in peace.

  • Bad conclusion. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by argent ( 18001 ) <peter&slashdot,2006,taronga,com> on Thursday November 13, 2008 @02:44AM (#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.

  • Re:So... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by beelsebob ( 529313 ) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @02:48AM (#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.

  • Re:Big duh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by julesh ( 229690 ) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @05:01AM (#25744299)

    "for instance, persecuting someone because of their sexual orientation--that is bigotry."

    So are you saying it's bigotted to discriminate against pedophiles, what about against incest? Technically these are orientations that 'can't be changed'?

    Yes, and I'd say a lot of the reactions people have to paedophiles are clearly in the realm of bigotry. These people have a mental illness and need our help. A lynch mob out for blood doesn't get us anywhere, yet 99% of the time when somebody is believed to be a paedophile that's what you end up with.

  • by AGMW ( 594303 ) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @05:07AM (#25744321) Homepage
    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.

    Hmmmm. You see when I read the linked article and it said:-
    They discovered that the proteins were correcting any imbalance imposed on them through artificial mutations, constantly restoring the chain to working order.

    I interpreted that as we push the spinning top and it corrects itself to spin smoothly. How is that evolution? Didn't they just say that it corrected artificial mutations? So a particular strand of life has some sort of auto-correction built in - yep, that doesn't sound unreasonable, but how does something correcting mutations lead to, er, more sustainable mutations?

    ... and then TFlA says:-
    A mathematical analysis revealed that these proteins seem to make these minute corrections all the time, steering organisms toward evolutionary changes that make the creature fitter.

    Sorry ... steers the organisms toward evolutionary changes that make the creature fitter? How the hell does an organism know what is going to be fitter?

    [sniff sniff] what's that odd smell? Is it cattle of some sort?

  • Re:So... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tatarize ( 682683 ) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @05:13AM (#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.

  • Re:Big duh (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Hao Wu ( 652581 ) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @06:22AM (#25744723) Homepage
    Your distinctions are meaningless. These issues are highly relative and subjective matters of opinion.

    One is a bigot when it's politically convenient to say so. The same person is a messiah when other values dominate.

    Whatever makes you feel good... people have no hesitance rationalizing any motive or outcome, nor twisting definitions to their need.
  • by Alain Williams ( 2972 ) <> on Thursday November 13, 2008 @06:36AM (#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.

  • Chill out guys (Score:2, Insightful)

    by IbnSlash ( 922267 ) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @07:48AM (#25745117)

    The response to this article highlights one of my biggest problems with a large section of the science community.

    The press release is a loud of baloney, like most press releases geared to the non-scientific community. It's a hard job, explaining such complex ideas to people with no background in the field is always going to be challenging and some fluff will need to be introduced. Only other alternative is to not do it at all, and then the creationists win.

    However to attack the scientists who actually did the research is simply out of order. Even if they have overstepped the mark, even if what they have discovered is a load of crap, to mock them is simply not necessary.

  • Re:So... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @10:37AM (#25746391) Journal
    "The bottom line is that those who advocated punctuated equilibrium hold the view that evolution either happens very fast or not at all.

    That ISN'T how I read Gould and/or Dawkins.

    "I hold the view (and as far as I recall from my time at University so do most evolutionary biologists) that there are many speeds to evolution, not just stop and go."

    That IS how I read Gould and/or Dawkins.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 13, 2008 @01:10PM (#25748573)

    Fuck this "Falisification" Bullshit! [...] Newtonian mechanics is a proven fact.

    Um, actually, it turns out that Newtonian mechanics has been falsified. That whole "general relativity" theory you mention, and the experiments that validate GR, prove that Newtonian mechanics are a special case where velocities are (relatively) low.

    Most of science is built on the idea that there are no "proven facts," but only observations consistent with carefully developed theories, and all it takes is one observation inconsistent with the theory to prove that theory wrong. Scientists are supposed to be skeptics, and observations that discredit theories happen all the time. This is where science an math diverge. Since math happens in Plato's heaven, math can make absolute proofs and be absolutely confident that its conclusions follow from your postulates. Since science happens in the real world, it's possible that its postulates are false.

    And the thing that gets me the most, is that by simply being honest, and expressing my honest opinions, even politely, I'll be regarded as a "militant". If I don't bow and scrap and perform becalming rituals before creationists, IDists, astrologists, philosophers, deists, theists, homeopaths, cultists, UFO nuts, conspiracy theorists, Holocaust denialists, AIDS denialists and any other Quack who spouts the first load of nonsense they can wrap in ten dollar words.

    You'll also be regarded as an arrogant "militant" by serious scientists if you don't admit the possibility that your observations are wrong, that there's an alternative hypothesis you haven't considered, or that there's something you don't know yet. Check your history: scientific "truth" is a transitory notion. Let's not forget the (probably apocryphal) claim of 1900 that the future advances in physics will be only in the fifth decimal place.

"The eleventh commandment was `Thou Shalt Compute' or `Thou Shalt Not Compute' -- I forget which." -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982