I was really excited (not) when the January 8th edition of New Scientist arrived. The cover story was bound to be something I could use in my course when we discussed modern views of evolution. Even the title was provocative: Uncertainty principle: How evolution hedges its bets.1
The article was written by freelance science writer Henry Nicholls. He lives in London UK and he has a Ph.D. (2007) in Evolutionary Ecology. Here's how the article begins ...
A man walks into a bar. "I have a new way of looking at evolution," he announces. "Do you have something I could write it down on?" The barman produces a piece of paper and a pen without so much as a smile. But then, the man wasn't joking.Let's turn this into a quiz.
The man in question is Andrew Feinberg, a leading geneticist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore; the bar is The Hung, Drawn and Quartered, a pub within the shadow of the Tower of London; and what's written on the piece of paper could fundamentally alter the way we think about ... evolution ....
What did Andrew Feinberg write about on that piece of paper?
All of these things have been touted as new ways of looking at evolution. Which one did he choose?
- the importance of small RNAs
- random genetic drift
- species sorting
- hierarchical theory
- developmental constraints
- alternative splicing
- selfish DNA
- the demise of the Central Dogma
- facilitated variation
- group selection
- phenotypic plasticity
- molecular chaperones
- genome complexity and the myth of junk DNA
- horizontal gene transfer
- the death of trees
- molecular drive
- mass extinctions
- punctuated equilibria
- systems biology
- the high cost of a beer in London
Here's a hint ...
Before setting foot in the pub, Feinberg had taken a turn on the London Eye, climbed Big Ben and wandered into Westminster Abbey. There, as you might expect, he sought out the resting place of Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. He was struck by the contrast between the lavish marble sculpture of a youthful Newton, reclining regally beneath a gold-leafed globe, and Darwin's minimalist floor stone.Hmmm ... Hung, Drawn and Quartered ... that gives me an idea. Let me write it down ....
As he looked round, Feinberg's eyes came to rest on a nearby plaque commemorating physicist Paul Dirac. This set him thinking about quantum theory and evolution, which led him to the idea that ... XXX ... might inject a Heisenberg-like uncertainty into the expression of genes, which would boost the chances of species surviving. That, more or less, is what he wrote on the piece of paper.
[Photo Credit: Jaunted]
1. Most of you can't follow the link because it's behind a paywall.