Finding the Actions That Alter Evolution
The biologist Marcus Feldman creates mathematical models that reveal how cultural traditions can affect the evolution of a species.
January 5, 2017
In a commentary in Nature, you and your co-authors wrote, “We hold that organisms are constructed in development, not simply ‘programmed’ to develop by genes.” What does “constructed in development” mean?
It means there’s an interaction between the subject and the environment. The idea of a genetic blueprint is not tenable in light of all that is now known about how all sorts of environmental contingencies affect traits. For many animals it’s like that. Even plants — the same plant that is genetically identical, if you put it in this environment, it’s going to look totally different from if you put it in that environment.
We now have a better picture of the regulatory process on genes. Epigenetics changes the landscape in genetics because it’s not only the pure DNA sequence which influences what’s going on at the level of proteins and enzymes. There’s this whole other stuff, the other 95 percent of the genome, that acts like rheostats — you slide this thing up and down, you get more or less of this protein. It’s a critical thing in how much of this protein is going to be made. It’s interesting to think about the way in which cultural phenomena, which we used to think were things by themselves, can have this effect on how much messenger RNA is made, and therefore on many aspects of gene regulation.
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