For some real controversy over evolution, check

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 19, 2005

For some real controversy over evolution, check out evo devo, or "evolutionary developmental biology". Its proponents claim that evolution works primarily by changing when certain genes are expressed, not via changing genes themselves. Scientific American has more.

Reader comments

Jonathan DobresOct 19, 2005 at 12:15PM

I don't think this is as controversial as some writers are making it out to be. The dominant view of evolution is all about gene mutation, and evo devo is saying that well, it also has a lot do with gene expression via switches in DNA. These switches have been known to exist for quite some time, and evo devo is just saying that they should be given more credit in evfolution than previously thought. Nothing about evo devo is incompatible with genetics as it stands, and I don't see controversy here. I think it's perfectly normal for a monolithic scientific idea to eventually get modified with several finer, more complex concepts over time, and the concept of genetic evolution is long overdue.

If anything, I think the "controversy" is more a reflection of the writer's need to showcase a competing evolutioanry theory that isn't the malarky of intelligent design, even if that theory isn't necessarily "competing," in the Darwinian sense. :-)

Alex VaughanOct 19, 2005 at 1:06PM

I agree with Jon's thoughts.

Also, it's important to note that these switches are usually themselves the products of genes. So Evo Devo enjoys the liberty of looking at changes in the network of gene expression - and how those changes are controlled - rather than looking at the function of every protein in sequence.

But really, it's just not a controversy. The study of the genetics of evolution is now broad enough that there are sub-disciplines within the larger field. It's more specialization of focus than anything else.

EricOct 19, 2005 at 1:23PM

This hubub is astonishingly obvious and trivial. Wake me up when they understand morphogenesis of a multicelled organism, in a mechanical sense. I mean we've know that all organisms use similar proteins for how many years? It's a blindingly obvious conclusion that relative timing is critical. If you're going to be a reductionist at least give me some mechanisms please. I was in the field about 20 years ago, and if this is what passes for an advancement I guess they haven't made much progress since then. Hardly surprising since traditional embryology fell out of favor once people decided they could figure everything out in terms of DNA sequences. I guess they are still trying. Someday they will find they actually have to look at embryos to answer these questions.

DaveOct 19, 2005 at 2:23PM

Eric, the evo-devo folks are looking at embryos. A good book on the subject (with some really cool
dye-enhanced views of genes in embryos) is "Endless Forms Most Beautiful" (sorry I can't remember
the author's name).

But you're right, it's not exactly revolutionary or controversial, just a very cool culmination of our increasing
understanding of genetics and development.

Edward J. S. AtkinsonOct 19, 2005 at 5:37PM

*sigh* I'm still waiting for one ACTUAL shred of evidence. These scientists cling to evolution as their religion knowing full well that science does not support it. I will most likely end up being the only one commenting who does not support evolution, but I must say that anybody who has done a few days research will see that Darwin's theory is nothing more than theory. After doing a thesis paper on evolution, I can hardly abide the tripe which media forces down our throats.

*ahem* Anyways, always a pleasure Jason!

EricOct 20, 2005 at 11:44AM

Edward, yes after a couple of days of reading Focus on the Family literature you will indeed be sure evolution is nonsense.

Dave - thanks for the reco, but that sounds like studying how a car is made by saying - look - there goes some tires on that train car going toward the factory! And we can see that when they are making pickups there are bigger loads of steel going by! You need to go inside the factory...

Yes I am sure people are doing great work - my point is the shift towards genes being the answer has led to neglect of actually studying what's going on outside the nucleus, which is where morphogenesis is actually occurring. As an aside, that sort of work is much harder...

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.