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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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  • by bcn17 ( 1390121 ) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @11:27PM (#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 khasim ( 1285 ) <> on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @11:34PM (#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.

  • Re:So... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Cassius Corodes ( 1084513 ) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @11:37PM (#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.
  • Re:Homeostasis (Score:0, Interesting)

    by ChuckSchwab ( 813568 ) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @11:39PM (#25742609) Journal

    Uhhhhh huh. Yeah dude. Whatever. So, you're basically saying that whatever we find, uh, evolution, like, TOTALLY predicted it. If we find cases of evolution working like Darwin originally predicted, hey, that's proof. If we find the opposite, like the scientists just did, that's proof too! Everything's proof!

    All that shows is that "evolution" is like "phlogiston" and "elan vital" and "emergence". They can explain everything, so they explain nothing.

    Lessons to take away:

    1) Explaining events is easy. The hard part is to not explain non-events.
    2) The whole pretense of "separation of church and school" is a lie. We have the church in our schools *right this second*. All we did was replace the Pope's prayerbook with Charles Darwin's.

    I could do better scientific work that the mainstream evolution fanatics by reading a Bible. And have.

  • Re:Uummmmmm, no. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by S77IM ( 1371931 ) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @12:04AM (#25742763)

    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 zappepcs ( 820751 ) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @12:34AM (#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:Big duh (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Weaselmancer ( 533834 ) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @12:36AM (#25742955)

    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.

    But the earth being 6000 years old is a possible conclusion of creationism. That's why it attracts ridicule as a theory. If it leads you down that road, it just might be the road that's silly, not just the house at the end of the road that says "6000 years and not one day more."

    FWIW, creationism could still be exactly true and it still would never be science. It makes no predictions, and is not falsifiable. [] It may be a theory, but it's not a scientific theory. A scientific theory has certain criteria that creationism does not meet.

    And that is why it attracts scorn here. This is a place for science-types. You'd probably have better luck on some board devoted to theology rather than Slashdot.

    It's not racism or bigotry. It's exasperation with people who believe in creationism and insist it be taught alongside other scientific theories, even though it simply doesn't belong there.

  • Contradiction (Score:2, Interesting)

    by xdor ( 1218206 ) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @12:51AM (#25743033)
    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 order must now be extended to account for corrective actions repressing mutation
    2. Feedback mechanisms are directing respective proteins' development; it knows what its suppose to be
  • Re:Big duh (Score:5, Interesting)

    by lysergic.acid ( 845423 ) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @01:38AM (#25743301) Homepage

    well, ignoring the fact those are not sexual orientations [] , if someone is attracted to children but doesn't act on it, then why should they be discriminated against or punished? likewise with someone who has incestuous feelings. heck, if two consensual adults engage in incestuous acts, that's their own business. as long as they aren't hurting anyone, why should they be persecuted for the way they are mentally wired?

    and just because it's wrong to discriminate against people based on their innate or inborn disposition doesn't mean people can't be held responsible for their actions which are conscious decisions. you can't choose who/what you're attracted to. but you can choose what beliefs you espouse and personally believe in.

  • Re:Big duh (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Austerity Empowers ( 669817 ) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @02:31AM (#25743605)

    Not true, it's just not news for nerds. I'm not sure I believe that we're all here for no reason either, and I'm not sure I trust anyone who does. No scientist is (or ought to be) talking about why the big bang happened, just how.

    I can't prove my hunch, and since it's an irrational belief I hold, it serves no real purpose to espouse it in any public forum. While I am not religious, Matthew 6:5 makes a lot of sense when it comes to living in peace with your fellow man.

    Why bicker about things no one can ever prove or disprove? What is the value in it?

  • by Corporate Troll ( 537873 ) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @04:45AM (#25744227) Homepage Journal

    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...)

  • by philspear ( 1142299 ) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @05:10AM (#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.

  • Re:So... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BerntB ( 584621 ) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @05:41AM (#25744533)

    Don't mix honours for good public writing with honours for research, see e.g. this []. Mayr, Maynard Smith et al each has more weight inside the field than Dawkins and Gould have together. The supporters Gould had in the field was generally extreme left, see this [] for some of the funnier things I've ever read on that debate.

    Tooby/Cosmides description is strengthened by the intelligence researchers's criticism against Gould on his writing on intelligence (far outside his area!). Very similar. (Also a similar thesis as his writing on evolution; Marxism have problems with behaviour being built in/inherited for some reason I don't care about.)

  • Re:Big duh (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mcvos ( 645701 ) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @10:17AM (#25746141)

    Creationists believe the bible literally...

    Not all creationists are Christians. Also, there's quite a bit of discussion about what "literally" really means when you're talking about the bible.

    6k years.

    Only for Young Earth Creationists. Old Earth Creationists, as their label implies, believe (or at least keep the option open that) the Earth is quite a bit older.

    If they believe otherwise, they're not a creationist.

    That may be your definition of creationist, but quite a lot of people have different definitions. There are even people who consider me a creationist because I believe in God, despite the fact that I think YEC, OEC and ID are poppycock.

  • Re:So... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by patch0 ( 1339585 ) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @10:21AM (#25746179) Homepage
    They will have changed, just very slowly :) There will be lots of differences between them and the examples preserved in the fossil record, but its not easy to determine what they are. There are lots of ways that species are classified, some are morphological, some are genetic, some are a mixture. How do you know that the coelocanth we see today is identical to the one we see in the rocks? For all we know they could be an example of convergent evolution (unlikely in this case). The fact that forms which function well are conserved does not mean that they have not evolved, it just means they've come up with a good design and forces are at play to preserve that design. The bottom line is that those who advocated punctuated equilibrium hold the view that evolution either happens very fast or not at all. 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. As far as I'm aware this view is borne out by the fossil record in which we see a variety of paces of change. This is one of the reasons that punctuated equilibrium is referred to (in probably less than a charitable manner) as 'evolution by jerks'.

"Well, it don't make the sun shine, but at least it don't deepen the shit." -- Straiter Empy, in _Riddley_Walker_ by Russell Hoban