Home » horizontal gene transfer, News » So evolution can happen, only it’s not Darwinism?

So evolution can happen, only it’s not Darwinism?

genes travel between distant cousins/Les Watson, Wikimedia Commons

From “Genes May Travel from Plant to Plant to Fuel Evolution” (ScienceDaily, Feb. 16, 2012), we learn,

Evolutionary biologists at Brown University and the University of Sheffield have documented for the first time that plants swap genes from plant to plant to fuel their evolutionary development. The researchers found enzymes key to photosynthesis had been shared among plants with only a distant ancestral relationship. The genes were incorporated into the metabolic cycle of the recipient plant, aiding adaptation.

How this happened is unclear. But the researchers show that not only did a grouping of grasses pass genes multiple times over millions of years, but that some of the genes that were transferred became integral cogs to the plants’ photosynthetic machinery, a critical distinguishing feature in C4 plants, which dominate in hot, tropical climes and now make up 20 percent of Earth’s vegetational covering.

“As far as we know, this is the first case where nuclear genes that have been transmitted between plants have been incorporated into the primary metabolism and contributed to the evolution of a new trait, in this case C4 photosynthesis,” said Pascal-Antoine Christin, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Brown.

“We’ve long understood how evolutionary adaptations are passed from parents to offspring. Now we’ve discovered in plants that they can be passed between distant cousins without direct contact between the species,” added Colin Osborne, an evolutionary biologist from the University of Sheffield and a corresponding author on the paper.

“What is so exciting here is that these genes are moving from plant to plant in a way we have not seen before,” said Erika Edwards, assistant professor of biology at Brown and the second author on the paper. “There is no host-parasite relationship between these plants, which is usually when we see this kind of gene movement.”

The interesting thing about lateral (horizontal) gene transfer or HGT is that the new traits come from genes contributed by an existing plant; they don’t arise through natural selection acting on random mutation (Darwin’s mechanism). That Darwin’s mechanism is the ultimate source of the swapped plant characteristics is an article of undemonstrable faith (and fierce fanaticism).

The authors hope that HGT serves as a form of rapid evolution. Surely, that’s going to depend on whether the gene can act in its new location and, if so, whether the new home finds a use for it.

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4 Responses to So evolution can happen, only it’s not Darwinism?

  1. What is Intelligent Design and What is it Challenging?- a short video featuring Stephen C. Meyer on Intelligent Design.

    He also makes it clear that ID is not anti-evolution.

    see also Blind and undiected chemical processes

  2. Just a question. Can anyone tell me how you could tell the difference between what has been observed in this case and what Monsanto has been doing inserting the same genetic material into a variety of different plants?

  3. [Meyer] also makes it clear that ID is not anti-evolution.

    True. At least not in most senses of the word “evolution.” But we also need to be vigilant about how slippery the word is and how it is used. One of the primary uses — indeed the underlying assumed and unstated meaning in most cases — is that it is a process that is wholly naturalistic and materialistic, without any planning, guidance, forethought, or intelligent input. ID certainly stands in opposition to that philosophical version of “evolution.”

    I understand, and agree with, Meyer’s point. We just need to be careful with that most slippery of words, “evolution.”

  4. Hi Eric,

    I, for one, am not going to let the anti-IDists continue to claim that ID is anti-evolution to make it sound as if we are a bunch of country bumpkins that think that organisms never change.

    That is the nonsensical strawman that Darwin erected in his book that Dawkins could not name and I am going o see that it is torn down.

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