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Friday, November 09, 2018

Celebrating 50 years of Neutral Theory

The importance of Neutral Theory and Nearly-Neutral Theory cannot be exaggerated. It has radically transformed the way experts think about evolution, especially at the molecular level. Unfortunately, the average scientist is not aware of the revolution that took place 50 years ago and they still think of evolution as a synonym for natural selection. I suspect that 80% of biology undergraduates in North American universities are graduating without a deep understanding of the importance of Neutral Theory.1

The journal of Molecular Biology and Evolution has published a special issue: Celebrating 50 years of the Neutral Theory. The key paper published 50 years ago was Motoo Kimura's paper on “Evolutionary rate at the molecular level” (Kimura, 1968) followed shortly after by a paper from Jack Lester King and Thomas Jukes on "Non-Darwinian Evolution" (King and Jukes, 1969).

The special issue contains reprints of two classic papers published in Molecular Biology and Evolution in 1983 and 2005. In addition, there are 14 reviews and opinions written by editors of the journal and published earlier this year (see below). It's interesting that several of the editors of a leading molecular evolution journal are challenging the importance of Neutral Theory and one of them (senior editor Matthew Hahn) is downright hostile.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

DNA Is Not Destiny by Steven J. Heine

DNA Is Not Destiny: The Remarkable Completely Misunderstood Relationship between You and Your Genes
by Steven J. Heine
W.W. Norton & Company, New York/London (2017)
ISBN: 978-0-393-24408-3

Steven Heine is a Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia (Vancouver, B.C., Canada). He has written a book about the perils of DNA testing and his main thesis is that the results of such tests are bound to make you fell unhappy because you will learn that you have a higher risk of several nasty diseases. He warns us that the science behind these predictions is not nearly as solid as the testing companies would have you believe but his main point is the psychological impact of the test results. He claims that we are not conditioned to put the results into the proper perspective because we are pre-conditioned to adopt a very fatalist view of our genetic makeup.

He had his DNA analyzed by a number of companies. Here's some of what he learned from 23 and Me.
23andMe provided me with a gripping set of predictions about my health with real concrete numbers—I learned that I have a 2.1 percent chance of developing Parkinson's disease, and this is 32 percent higher than the average person. The 23andMe experience "felt" satisfying because it provided a wealth of highly specific and personal information about my health. But then, so would the fortune-teller down the street, and at least she isn't claiming any scientific foundation to her predictions.