Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Social Genome

Die, selfish gene, die
For decades, the selfish gene metaphor let us view evolution with new clarity. Is it now blinding us?
David Dobbs

"... If faced with clues that food might be scarce, such as hunger or crowding, certain grasshopper species can transform within days or even hours from their solitudinous hopper states to become part of a maniacally social locust scourge. They can also return quickly to their original form."

"...This raises a question: if merely reading a genome differently can change organisms so wildly, why bother rewriting the genome to evolve? How vital, really, are actual changes in the genetic code? Do we always need DNA changes to adapt to new environments? Are there other ways to get the job done? Is the importance of the gene as the driver of evolution being overplayed?"

"...Perhaps better then to speak not of genes but the genome — all your genes together. And not the genome as a unitary actor, but the genome in conversation with itself, with other genomes, and with the outside environment. If grasshoppers becoming locusts, sweet bees becoming killers, and genetic assimilation are to be believed it’s those conversations that define the organism and drive the evolution of new traits and species. It’s not a selfish gene or a solitary genome. It’s a social genome."

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