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Earth Science

Religious Ceremony Leads To Evolution of Cave Fish 233

An anonymous reader writes "A centuries-old religious ceremony of an indigenous people in southern Mexico has led to evolutionary changes in a local species of fish, say researchers at Texas A&M University. Apparently since before Columbus arrived, the Zoque people would venture each spring into the sulfuric cave Cueva del Azufre to beg the gods for bountiful rain. As part of the ritual, they released into the cave's waters a leaf-bound paste made of lime and the ground-up root of the barbasco plant, a natural fish toxin. The rest is worth reading, but the upshot is that the fish living in the cave waters eventually got wise, genetically speaking."
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Religious Ceremony Leads To Evolution of Cave Fish

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  • So... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Barrinmw ( 1791848 ) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @02:06AM (#34145570)
    It's like bacteria but on a multicellular level.
  • by The_mad_linguist ( 1019680 ) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @02:21AM (#34145614)

    So, this isn't considered to be "selective breeding" why now?

  • by jihema ( 558787 ) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @02:27AM (#34145646)
    Evolution does not have to be visible to naked eye. Developing resistance to a toxin is evolution, because the trait is passed to the offspring.
  • by RockModeNick ( 617483 ) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @02:31AM (#34145660)

    The difference is the method of selection: In one case, humans are altering the environment of a species, resulting in evolutionary changes.

    Selective breeding involves just that, selecting the traits you want in the animal and then breeding only animals with those traits. Selecting what you breed.

      The environmental alteration version doesn't involve any conscious desire for selection; any meddling that alters survival and breeding rates is good enough. These people aren't purposefully poisoning the water to select the fish in the river that are hardest to poison.

  • by siddesu ( 698447 ) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @02:32AM (#34145666)

    Reading the TFA, I'd say it mostly speculation.

    The conclusion about the differences in reaction to the toxin is kind of speculative, as the research was done on fish, which was extracted from natural habitat, placed in stressful conditions, etc. Pinning this squarely on "evolution" and human influence is an interesting proposition, but that's it.

    This is even more true of the "evolution" part of the article. The paper presents some statistical evidence that fish from different parts of the water body respond differently to introduction of the plant toxin, but it all ends there.

    There is no information at all about whether this is a genetic or acquired trait; there is nothing on the supposed mechanisms of the said difference; nothing to suggest what the eventual genetic differences that account for this effect may be.

    It is an interesting observation, maybe a cool hypothesis, but saying "ceremony leads to evolution" is certainly over-stretching it.

  • by zblack_eagle ( 971870 ) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @02:38AM (#34145684)

    I'd say that the new fish were indeed unable to breed with the fish without the adaptation, as those fish were dead

  • by forkazoo ( 138186 ) <> on Saturday November 06, 2010 @02:53AM (#34145722) Homepage

    Basically, there's no difference in mechanism between selective breeding and evolution. It's just a difference in intent. The idea is that the people weren't specifically breeding the fish in the same way that people specifically bred cows and wheat and whatnot. In any case, the organisms most suited to their (human influenced) environment reproduced most successfully.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 06, 2010 @03:27AM (#34145824)

    How can they be sure that any changes that have occurred are from the ceremonial poisoning and not the much longer exposure to the natural toxic sulfur environment. Seems to be a lot of attention grabbing assumptions and theories.

  • by siddesu ( 698447 ) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @04:55AM (#34145964)

    It's not necessary to understand the biochemistry or the underlying mechanisms in order to deduce an evolutionary response, it's sufficient to note that the fish are more resistant to the leaf-throwing than those upstream.

    Really? Even (unlike the Darwin's case) if there are other feasible explanations? Have you heard of, for instance, mithridization -- the ability of plants and animals to acquire partial immunity from acute poisoning if a low dosage is administered for a long time beforehand?

    It is an acquired trait (not passed genetically) that can quite nicely explain this phenomenon and dispense with the need for evolution.

    I didn't see anything in the article that would discount this possibility. Without understanding the biochemistry, claiming evolutionary response is just a hypothesis, especially in a small population like the one, discussed in the article.

    Also, while you have modpoints, you obviously don't know what is a "strawman argument", go look it up ;)

  • by gilleain ( 1310105 ) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @05:40AM (#34146048)

    I do have modpoints, but am resisting using them to point out two things.

    Firstly, you are of course correct that without some understanding of the mechanism, any explanation based on Darwinian evolution is premature. For a start, it is a very short timescale, but who knows - we could speculate that some mutation in the active site of the enzyme that was targeted by this poison has rendered it ineffective.

    Secondly, 'mithridization' refers to dosing yourself with small amounts of a poison until you build up an immunity. It has nothing to do with acquired characteristics (or epigenetics).

    Oh, and yes it wasn't a straw man argument. SLASHDOTTERS: please do not use formal names for logical fallacies if you don't understand what they mean!

  • by digitig ( 1056110 ) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @06:10AM (#34146130)

    Because you don't know what the word "breeding" means?

    Well, this is /. after all...

  • Re:I predict (Score:2, Insightful)

    by dov_0 ( 1438253 ) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @09:13AM (#34146692)

    At the risk of opening the proverbial can of worms, some of the basic ideas often associated with young Earth creationism that I've seen on /. would be; the idea that God created, the role of assumptions (worldview) in interpretation of evidence, unprovable assumptions in the application of some radiation dating methods and of course the idea that the Earth itself could be much younger that theorised. These are some basic ideas that I've read in comments on /.

    Personally I don't have a problem with proper debate, so I don't mind if people disagree with me. I do prefer however that if people are going to try and argue with me they actually try and understand what they are arguing instead of just regurgitating what they saw on the Discovery Channel. On the other hand as someone with some years of theological study behind me, the usual anti-religion and anti-bible rants bore me to tears with their general lack of rational study or often even reasonable intelligence. Christians who argue without understanding also annoy me.

    I think that whatever people choose to believe and whatever they choose to argue, they should actually do their best to know what they believe and WHY they believe it. Each person has a responsibility to choose, at least to some degree, their own destiny. Making an informed decision on what we believe to be true is a basic start to that end.

  • by shovas ( 1605685 ) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @11:20AM (#34147294) Homepage

    Therefore climate change alarmists and other environmental loudmouths moaning about species loss and soil degradation should just shut the fuck up.

    Seriously? You need to think it through a little more. This is not a rational position.

    The main flaw of your argument is scale. You bet we can screw with nature and it will repair itself - to a certain critical mass of damage. Certainly, the scale of our activity dwarfs anything past even 100 years ago. Remember, in 1800 there were only 1B people on earth. All of that time just to get to 1B? Within 200 years we're at 2B. What people are talking about now is the concern of the scale. A system only has so much tolerance.

  • Re:I predict (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ComaVN ( 325750 ) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @12:35PM (#34147656)

    the idea that God created

    This is hardly an idea unique to young-earth creationism. Indeed, nearly all religions who recognise gods believe (at least one of them) created the earth/universe.

    the role of assumptions (worldview) in interpretation of evidence

    Confirmation bias is a well-known effect, particularly in scientific circles, and pretty much by definition not something that only the "opposite" site can be guilty of. Hence my sig :P

    unprovable assumptions in the application of some radiation dating methods

    Which are those? The ones I know of (like the differing amounts of atmospheric C14 throughout history) are calibrated against, and shouldn't give an error of more than a couple of hundred years out of 20.000 or so (verified with ice core samples containing wood). That's already 3 times the biblical age of the earth, never mind what happens when you use (and compare) any of the other radiometric dating methods that all put the age of the earth squarely above 10.000.

    The idea that radioactive decay was different in the past might actually be true, but again that's been shown to be only a few % at best (with the exception of Rhenium 187), and is not going to turn 4 billion into 6000.

    the idea that the Earth itself could be much younger that theorised

    Yes, I've seen those ideas, but I've only seen biblical evidence (mostly arguing about the interpretation of "yom", or day). I'm sorry, but biblical evidence just isn't going to convince anyone who doesn't already believe in the literal thruth of the bible.

    As someone with some years of theological study behind me, the usual anti-religion and anti-bible rants bore me to tears with their general lack of rational study or often even reasonable intelligence.

    Yes, but let's not lump the sarcastic one-liners of Skeptic's Annotated Bible [] in the same category as, for instance, [], who makes a genuine attempt to analyze biblical errors in the proper context.

    Making an informed decision on what we believe to be true is a basic start to that end.

    Yes, but this implies a willingness to change your believes when new information comes to light.

  • Re:I predict (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kilrah_il ( 1692978 ) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @12:44PM (#34147694)

    I had a hard time deciding between replying to you or using my mod points to mod you Toll.
    You see, I also believe in evolution, science and all the other things you said. I also do not believe in God and believe Creationalism is stupid. But, I, apparently, have one thing you do not: Manners.
    The parent wrote his beliefs in a polite, respecting manner. He did not say: "Stupid evolutionalists! Can't you see that GOD is with me?" He was stating his beliefs while respecting ours. The least you could do was respond in kind and not use words like: "idiots", "scum", "i truely wish you were all dead", etc.

  • Re:I predict (Score:2, Insightful)

    by maxwell demon ( 590494 ) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @02:09PM (#34148110) Journal

    Indeed, nearly all religions who recognise gods believe (at least one of them) created the earth/universe.

    And actually it's not hard to believe in God creating the universe while being in line with science: After all, the big bang theory is scientific consensus at this point.

  • Re:I predict (Score:2, Insightful)

    by GNUALMAFUERTE ( 697061 ) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <etreufamla>> on Sunday November 07, 2010 @01:58AM (#34152230)

    So, no, I am not advocating a violent crusade against religion. I am advocating HONESTY. Are you a rational human being? Then stop pretending that religion is ok. Stop supporting them. Stop saying that it's just a matter of opinion, or a personal right, or that we must defend religious tolerance. We must advocate peace, and we must advocate human rights. Nobody should ever be murdered or assaulted for any reason, period. That doesn't mean that we should allow any kind of behavior just because it gets tax exemption. Tolerance is a BAD THING. It was supposed to mean not harming others because of what they believe, and I couldn't agree more on that, but now, it means not contradicting in any way any idiot that puts certain labels on all kinds of irrational ideas. That, is not reasonable, and we shouldn't take it any longer.

Honesty is for the most part less profitable than dishonesty. -- Plato