RE: Memetic Influence on Evolution

From: Vincent Campbell (
Date: Tue May 14 2002 - 11:30:11 BST

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    Subject: RE: Memetic Influence on Evolution
    Date: Tue, 14 May 2002 11:30:11 +0100
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    Nice piece, Grant.

    Just a quick aside: Fukuyama's brave isn't he? After being about as wrong
    as you can be with his 'end of history' idea, he's back with a new "idea"
    that is getting huge coverage all over the place. To be fair, his new idea
    looks a little more sensible, but I'm always wary of grandstanding academics
    like him.


    > ----------
    > From: Grant Callaghan
    > Reply To:
    > Sent: Monday, May 13, 2002 15:06 PM
    > To:
    > Subject: Memetic Influence on Evolution
    > The following story illustrates the coming influence of memetics on
    > genetic
    > evolution. For a view of what we might do about it, read Francis
    > Fukuyama's
    > Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution.
    > The Scientist 16[10]:68, May. 13, 2002
    > Rudolf Raff
    > At the crossroads of evolution, development,
    > and genetics
    > By Ricki Lewis
    > Courtesy of Rudolf Raff
    > If a visitor to Earth were to try to assess life's diversity by touring
    > terrestrial biology laboratories, he, she, or it might conclude that the
    > planet is overrun with fruit flies, mice, small plants, tiny transparent
    > worms, and a few types of single-celled inhabitants. That skewed view
    > might
    > be why it's taken more than a century for the field called evo-devo today
    > to
    > have taken off.
    > It's also why Indiana University distinguished professor Rudolf (Rudy)
    > Raff
    > collects sea urchins from the Australian coast instead of ordering mice
    > from
    > the Jackson Laboratory or flies from the Drosophila stock center right
    > next
    > door. He's been doing so since 1985, along with wife and
    > researcher-in-her-own-right Beth, who takes an annual "maggot sabbatical"
    > to
    > join him.
    > In February, Rudy Raff was one of eight scientists to receive the Medal of
    > Alexander Kowalevsky from the Council of the St. Petersburg Society of
    > Naturalists in Russia. Due to intervening wars, revolutions, and national
    > dissolutions, the medal had not been awarded again since its creation in
    > 1910. Scott Gilbert, professor of biology at Swarthmore College and
    > another
    > founder of evo-devo, explains why Raff received the honor: "Rudy is trying
    > to create a new synthesis of the entire field of biology, nothing less, by
    > reuniting evolutionary biology with developmental biology."
    > Before evo-devo had a name, Raff organized symposia that brought together
    > the contributing life sciences in a new way. "At one of these meetings, I
    > heard an animated conversation between a postdoc in developmental biology
    > and an eminent arthropod paleontologist. Both were investigating the
    > origins
    > of the insect jaw," Gilbert recalls. Raff was the first chair of evo-devo
    > for the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, and he
    > established
    > the first journal. "Rudy has gotten the researchers in evolutionary and
    > developmental biology to speak to each other, he's given us a manual as to
    > how to productively have these conversations, he has framed the problems
    > for
    > the field, and he has provided a specific forum for discussions in this
    > area," Gilbert adds.
    > Back in the lab, Raff concentrates on echinoderms, the invertebrates with
    > a
    > characteristic five-part symmetry. He sees two ways to choose one's
    > experimental organism. "You can start with a model and study its
    > relatives.
    > Or, you can go out and find species with appealing properties. I find
    > organisms such as sea urchins and starfish that are interesting and don't
    > worry if they are suitable models."
    > By generalizing from "little collections of organisms," biologists have
    > missed many clues to evolution, Raff contends. A broader view of life also
    > entails considering development right from the beginning. "Nature has
    > alternate developmental modes. All sea urchins, all frogs, don't
    > necessarily
    > develop in the canonical way. This is wonderful material to reveal
    > evolution," he exclaims. "How does nature make essentially the same
    > organism
    > through a completely different developmental pathway? How fast did the new
    > way arise? How many genes did it require, and what were the selective
    > pressures?" It all comes back to body plans, he says, and biologists
    > needn't
    > rely on Cambrian fossils for answers. "We can look at related modern
    > organisms that had big changes in structure over time. With this approach,
    > I've got my time machine."
    > Two species of sea urchins that last shared an ancestor 10 million years
    > ago
    > have provided that time machine for Raff. One species develops through a
    > typical feeding larva stage; the other hatches directly into a juvenile
    > adult. Yet when Raff's group created a hybrid, the animal was more than
    > the
    > sum of its parts-it had the larval feeding apparatus, yet also
    > characteristics of more ancient echinoderms not seen in either parent.1
    > Raff
    > speculates on what might have happened: "I think the first evolutionary
    > step
    > was freedom from the need to feed. From there, the animal could drop the
    > feeding features, then develop others, like highly rapid development."
    > Raff came to science as many biologists do, collecting fossils as a young
    > child. Another powerful influence was Gavin de Beer's book Embryos and
    > Ancestors,2 which Raff read in his "spare time" as a grad student in
    > biochemistry at Duke University, which meant while doing laundry. De Beer
    > wrote that evolution occurs through changes in timing of key developmental
    > events. That paradigm seemed too constraining to Raff, but back then tools
    > such as molecular phylogenetics did not exist to experimentally
    > investigate
    > alternatives.
    > Ironically, timing would become a recurring theme in Raff's career. The
    > guiding principles of what would become evo-devo began to coalesce in his
    > mind long before he could categorize his thoughts. By the mid-1970s, his
    > ideas had gelled sufficiently that he and distinguished professor Thomas
    > Kaufman, who investigates homeotic mutations in Drosophila and other
    > arthropods, offered a graduate course called "Embryos and Ancestors," one
    > of
    > the first official retrospective evo-devo courses. In 1983, the pair
    > published an early book in the field,3 but it proved too visionary. By
    > 1996,
    > when Raff published The Shape of Life, the time had come.4 One of many
    > rave
    > reviews called it "arguably one of the most important books of the decade
    > in
    > evolutionary biology."5
    > Clearly uncomfortable being called a founder of a field that many have
    > built, Raff-in the introduction to The Shape of Life-traces evo-devo's
    > origins to Charles Darwin, German evolutionary biologist Ernst Haeckel,
    > and
    > many others.
    > Ricki Lewis ( is a contributing editor.
    > She took the course "Embryos and Ancestors" with Rudy Raff and Tom Kaufman
    > in 1977.
    > References
    > 1. E.C. Raff et al., "A novel ontogenetic pathway in hybrid embryos
    > between
    > species with different modes of development," Development, 126:1937-45,
    > 1999.
    > 2. G. de Beer, Embryos and Ancestors, New York: Oxford University Press,
    > 1958.
    > 3. R.A. Raff, T.C. Kaufman, Embryos, Genes, and Evolution, New York:
    > MacMillan, 1983.
    > 4. R.A. Raff, The Shape of Life, Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
    > 1996.
    > 5. M.L. McKinney, "Understanding evolution: The next step," Science,
    > 273:1347, 1996.
    > Grant
    > _________________________________________________________________
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    > This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    > Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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    > see:

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