Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Darwin's Paradox 3

The coral's paradox that I discussed in my previous post was linked to its struggle for existence. Charles Darwin also faced the paradox of natural selection, based on "like begets like -- but not exactly". Although Darwin could observe this paradox, he couldn't explain it. Ironically, Gregor Mendel, who lived at the same time as Darwin, was making discoveries that could help explain what Darwin was observing. But they never collaborated. It was only following the birth of population genetics, particularly in the 1930s, that Mendelism and Darwinism were reconciled and the genetic basis of variation and natural selection was worked out. In his "Origin of Species", which Darwin called "one long argument", he presented a case for evolution and natural selection that had yet to be proven much later by genetics and ecology. Steve Jones, professor of genetics at University College of London and author of "Darwin's Ghost" said: "Natural selection is a machine that makes almost impossible things." Jones describes how some artists use a computer to generate altered versions of an original. Architects do the same and machines even write plays; all of these are examples of evolution through descent with modification. "Darwin is loose on the shop floor," Jones adds, "and industry has become a branch of the biological sciences." Where might this lead and what does it mean for natural selection? The study of evolution and its modern synthesis remains fluid and lively with continued controversy. My upcoming book, "Darwin's Paradox" by Dragon Moon Press explores some of the more wierd (and wonderful) ideas in this evolving process.

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