12 Feb 2010

New Scientist (online version) January 26th ... an article speculates that Darwin's ideas were only a part of the story of evolution. Darwin's explanation may apply only to recent history of life on earth whereas in the deep history of the earth evolution may have differed in some respects. At the root of the idea is overwhelming evidence for horizontal gene transfer - in which organisms aquire genetic material horizontally from other organisms around them rather than vertically from their parents or ancestors. The donor organisms might not even be the same species, a mechanism known from the evolution of microbial genomes. How could modern biology have got so far off track the article asks. Complacency, it concludes. Biology has built up a fascade of mathematics around the juxtaposition of Mendelian genetics with Darwinism and neglected to study the nature of the evolutionary process. Nothing in the modern synthesis (evolutionary biology) explains the fundmental steps of early life - how evolution could have produced the genetic code and the basic genetic machinery used by all organisms, especially enzymes and proteins.