Charles Darwin... you'reFIRED!

Greetings everybody,

Happy Friday! Todays post will be on  ‘The Battle for the soul of Evolutionary Biology’. Evolutionary Biology is a hot topic in science of late due to an all out war on whether Evolutionary Theory is just fine the way it is (Standard Evolutionary Theory) or if it needs a total reboot in order to fit with modern phenomena (Extended Evolutionary Synthesis). For you guys to form your own opinion, I am going to give you a crash course on what both sides are saying. Enjoy. 

Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (EES): 


Extended Evolutionary Synthesis is built on one fundamental idea. Genes cannot take all the credit for evolution. Scientists in support of this idea claim that Standard Evolutionary Theory can cause scientists to have tunnel vision as such they can miss crucial parts of the picture. They argue that the original theory neglects the role processes involved in an organisms growth and development have on their evolution. At present, evolutionary theorists have maxed out on researching an organisms genes and  their phenotypes but have neglected the link between the two. Development.

According to Kevin Laland and his colleagues four phenomena should be integrated into Evolutionary Theory 2.0. Developmental Bias, Niche Construction, Phenotypic Plasticity and Extra Genetic Inheritance. For todays post I will focus on two!


Now I am not going to go into too much detail about this process because it will be featured in its very own post on Biobunch in the not too distant future. This phenomena describes an organisms ability to reconstruct their developmental path by changing their phenotypic state or activity (e.g. rate of metabolism) in response to novel or varying environmental conditions. 
Below are two examples of this process in action check it out! 


There is a lot more to inheritance than genes. Extra-Genetic Inheritance takes parent-offspring similarities one step beyond genetics, by explaining the maintenance of behavioural traditions, cultural inheritance and so on. Classic example is the passing of nut cracking knowledge in chimps. 

Closing points: 

Overall, the four phenomena above mentioned may have a far larger explanatory power of why and how evolution occurs than currently given credit for. Overall the synthesis provides an interesting and arguably novel view on evolution by providing more than one route for an organism to ‘fit’ into its environment. 

Scientists that are behind this synthesis, are not completely undermining current evolutionary biology, however, what they are calling for is a wider stance on topics by revamping Standard Evolutionary Theory. After all it has been shown countless times plurality is always the best policy. 

Standard Evolutionary Theory (SET):


This is the evolutionary theory that everybody has come across at some stage in life whether it be through the national curriculum, or higher education the point is, it is widely taught to us. This theory was largely formed on the principles set out by ‘The Modern Synthesis’. What is this? Well the great Charles Darwin provided us with natural selection as a process by which evolution is likely to occur. But its missing something, genetics. Thus, ‘The Modern Synthesis’ was born with the union of natural selection with modern age genetics. 
I know that you know this story but take a quick look at the wonderful process Darwin proposed! 


Scientists in favour of the EES called for a pluralistic approach to be adopted in terms of evolutionary theory. However, this call had been answered long before they asked. Those four phenomena up to this date have been the stars in many papers and many evolutionary biologists would agree that these phenomena are extremely interesting. Indeed, interesting, but not enough to warrant the rebranding of evolutionary theory. 

Never underestimate the power of genes. The discovery of these little hereditary units have allowed for precise predictions and the quantification for many components of evolution! In fact it is thanks to our understanding of genes  as to why we understand one of the biggest scare of the 21st Century- antibiotic resistance.

Now what do we know we need a lot of in the field of science? Evidence. According to those in support of SET, EES are bursting with enthusiasm and optimism but their evidence is not so optimistic. Several of the phenomena have not established a solid link with evolution, whereas the theories in SET (genetic drift, natural selection, mutation and recombination) have been linked as causes of evolution many times over. 


Needless to say the concept of an Extended Evolutionary Theory is extremely exciting, and it is likely that the four phenomena listed above will play al large part in the rebranding of the theory in the future. For now, until more studies are done there is no need for such large scale modification. 

It is easy to get the idea that Standard Evolutionary Theory is like the worlds grandfather, set in its ways, unwilling to change and static whereas Extended Evolutionary Synthesis sounds like your bright eyed bushy tailed kid brimming with promise. This is not the case according to scientists Standard Evolutionary Theory has had a brilliant year thanks to many technological advances!

Lastly, ‘Gene-centric’ is not a bad thing! 

Charles Darwin, sorry for the mix up both yourself and your theory are rehired! That brings us to the end of this weeks post, hope you have learnt somethings along the way! Now it is down to you, SET or EES, either way you choose to go, this post has highlighted that this area is growing every day and needs innovative and passionate people! Personally I am interested in the future role phenotypic plasticity may play in an organisms ability to adapt to climate change (the looming threat). 

Until next time guys thats Biobunch

over and out

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