Sunday, February 27, 2011

Extending the Modern Synthesis

Question seven for my students is very difficult. I gave it to them as a possibility for next Tuesday's exam but I've almost decided not to us it. How many of you, dear readers, could come up with a good answer?
Which of the current proposed “extensions” of the Modern Synthesis come from studies of molecular evolution? Which one of them would you definitely include if you were proposing Evolutionary Theory (version 2011)?
Think in terms of what has to be in the textbooks ten years from now when they are discussing fundamentals of evolutionary theory.


  1. Boy, this is a tough one. Judging from these questions, this is one tough course. Wish I had a chance to ever take anything like that.

    I was thinking about it and realized that I am not exactly sure what Modern Synthesis is. Would that be the same thing as Modern Synthesis of 1930s? Does everyone even agree on what the term means?

    To think of it, isn't it amazing how slow the progress in evolutionary knowledge has been in comparison to things like cell biology and biochemistry?

  2. Considering Gould spent 1300 pages on this question(and he really shirked on the molecular detail compared to everything else), I'd lean in the camp that as an exam question it's a bit much.

    That said I agree with DK this sounds like a fantastic course. Quite a bit better than the lecture course based on Ridley's text I got.

  3. ...what has to be in the textbooks ten years from now when they are discussing fundamentals of evolutionary theory.

    My guess is that ten years from now there will be more emphasis on recombination and migration as forces that can counteract the effects of selection and on mutation as a force which can impart a direction of its own.

    There will be a greatly expanded emphasis on co-evolution - involving mutualisms that are interspecies, intraspecies, and intragenome. The 'mosaic theory' will be hawt.

    There will be more emphasis on population structure, with even undergrads being capable of explaining the impact of the ratios of various 'effective population sizes' - breeding vs social vs ecologically competitive.

    Of these, only the improved understanding of mutation as a directed force actually arises from molecular studies. The rest come from population genetics or ecology.