Sunday, June 01, 2014

The integration of evolutionary biology with physiological science

From Sun & Zhu 2014. This shows a Goldfish (L) a Common
Carp (Mid) and a hybrid with a Carp nucleus in a goldfish egg.
Although the hybrid looks like a Carp it has about the same no
of vertebrae as a Goldfish (28-30) not a Carp (32-36)
Denis Noble emails me to say that the special issue of The Journal of Physiology about the integration of evolutionary biology with physiological science is now online.

This develops the ideas presented at IUPS Congress in Birmingham in July 2013 and "a rising tide of recently published articles in major scientific journals, including Nature Reviews Genetics (Müller, 2007), Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (Mattick, 2012), Nature (Ball, 2013), Biological Journal of the Linnean Society (Bateson, 2014) and Science (Rosenberg & Queitsch, 2014). It was also prompted by important books that have appeared recently (Margulis & Sagan, 2003; Jablonka & Lamb, 2014; Noble, 2006; Beurton et al. 2008; Pigliucci & Müller, 2010; Bateson & Gluckman, 2011; Gissis & Jablonka, 2011; Shapiro, 2011). Those books also propose either significant extensions of existing evolutionary theory or the replacement of the Modern Synthesis by a new synthesis."

Denis and his highly distinguished  co-authors (Eva Jablonka, Michael J. Joyner, Gerd B. Müller and Stig W. Omholt) summarise the questions addressed in the papers in this special issue as including:
  • What are the major new developments in evolutionary biology and how do they challenge the Modern Synthesis?
  • Which of these developments have implications for how the physiological sciences should further their understanding of health and disease?
  • If the Modern Synthesis is to be extended or replaced by a new explanatory structure, what is the role of physiology in the development of this structure? 
This is all enormously exciting and I urge anyone interested to read it. I'll try to blog further but I'm enormously busy at the moment

Denis has also updated his Answers Page which contains some more detailed explanation and responses to critics.

PS: One of the many interesting and crucial points is that "DNA does not have the privileged place in the chain of causality many attribute to it." The ways in which DNA, RNA and physiology interact are far more complex and multifaceted than the simplistic "lumbering robots" myth of Dawkins.  From a systems PoV one of the consequences is that evolution can work much faster and more efficiently than the Modern Synthesis would allow. The other consequence is that (as per Noble's famous principle of biological relativity) the notion that "lower" levels are "more fundamental" than higher levels of explanation completely disappears. This is quite a subtle point and I really must develop it in a subsequent blog post. But the basic idea is that mechanism, form, function and purpose are all key explanatory levels in a complex evolutionary system with multiple levels of feedback.  Indeed in some cases the mechanism is (largely, to first order) irrelevant in that you get more or less the same outcomes (statistically) regardless of the precise mechanisms.

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