Carl Woese in New Scientist

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Carl Woese in New Scientist

Postby Derek Potter » Sat Mar 10, 2007 10:48 am

Food for thought here in New Scientist, 8th Feb 2006. Make me a hipporoo
Carl Woese ... raises another important question. When did Darwinian evolution begin? By Darwinian evolution he means evolution as Darwin understood it, based on the competition for survival of non-interbreeding species.

He presents evidence that Darwinian evolution did not go back to the beginning of life. Comparing the genomes of ancient lineages of living creatures shows evidence of massive transfers of genetic information from one lineage to another. In early times, horizontal gene transfer, the sharing of genes between unrelated species, was prevalent. It becomes more prevalent the further back you go in time.

Whatever Woese writes, even in a speculative vein, needs to be taken seriously. In his "new biology" article, he is postulating a golden age of pre-Darwinian life, when horizontal gene transfer was universal and separate species did not exist. Life was then a community of cells of various kinds, sharing their genetic information so that clever chemical tricks and catalytic processes invented by one creature could be inherited by all of them. Evolution was a communal affair, the whole community advancing in metabolic and reproductive efficiency as the genes of the most efficient cells were shared. Evolution could be rapid, as new chemical devices could be evolved simultaneously by cells of different kinds working in parallel, and then reassembled in a single cell by horizontal gene transfer.

But then, one evil day, a cell resembling a primitive bacterium happened to find itself one jump ahead of its neighbours in efficiency. That cell separated itself from the community and refused to share. Its offspring became the first species of bacteria, reserving their intellectual property for their own private use. With their superior efficiency, the bacteria continued to prosper and to evolve separately, while the rest of the community continued its communal life. Some millions of years later, another cell separated itself from the community and became the ancestor of the archaea. Some time after that, a third cell separated itself and became the ancestor of the eukaryotes. And so it went on, until nothing was left of the community and all life was divided into species. The Darwinian interlude had begun.

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Derek Potter
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Postby Timothy Chase » Sat Mar 10, 2007 5:52 pm

Eugene Koonin is of much the same view.

The following article is freely available on the web. It is technical, but still quite readable.

The ancient Virus World and evolution of cells
Eugene V Koonin, Tatiana G Senkevich, and Valerian V Dolja
Biol Direct. 2006; 1: 29. ... id=1594570

Moreover, I consider it a special treat as it includes an exchange between the publication reviewers and the main author - which touches on fairly fundamental issues related to the philosophy of science.


The following is something I would have to pay for and I haven't had the chance to look at it yet:

Evolution of complexity in the viral world: the dawn of a new vision.
Koonin EV, Dolja VV.
Virus Res. 2006 Apr;117(1):1-4. Epub 2006 Feb 23.
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