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Researcher: Hidden variations enable rapid evolution

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In the course of describing an experiment on cryptic variation in E coli, Andreas Wagner offers

Genetic variation—that is, accumulated mutations in the DNA—is the fuel for all evolutionary change: the more genetic variation, the faster evolution works and the more possibilities for novel adaptive solutions.

But one kind of genetic variation—hidden, or “cryptic,” variation— doesn’t alter the appearance or behavior of an organism in its usual environment.

“It’s an underappreciated kind of genetic variation,” says corresponding author Andreas Wagner, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Zurich and external professor at the Santa Fe Institute, “and it plays an important role in evolution.”…

In the wild, cryptic variation helps fish adapt to life in caves. In the lab, cryptic variation might help a biomolecule bind a new receptor. “Our work can help develop new directed evolution strategies to find innovative biomolecules for biotechnological and medical applications,” says Zheng.

Like a fat savings account, cryptic variation is a store of variation that becomes available in an emergency to fuel rapid evolutionary change critical to the survival of a lineage and useful for molecular biologists.

Santa Fe Institute, “Hidden genetic variations power evolutionary leaps” at Phys.org

It sounds a lot like this “fat savings account” of potential variations in evolution is preprogrammed, which would certainly make sense from a design perspective. Something like Lee Spetner’s approach in The Evolution Revolution. Or, as a friend says, it’s “evolutionary teleonomy.”

Not that the people at Santa Fe mention it.

See also: Evolutionary Teleonomy: Support From Mainstream Evolutionary Biologists (Jonathan Bartlett)


The Dangers Of Bad Paradigms And The Need For Evolutionary Teleonomy (Jonathan Bartlett)

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So are we to suppose that the organism stores up random mutations in unused DNA for future potential usage? Given the rarity of useful new genes in random DNA sequences, that would have to be a huge "store of variation", and carrying it around in one's genome would be rather expensive. And then, how would the organism know where to look for the new sequence it needs? Indeed, how would it even know that it can go looking and what it needs? Fasteddious
This is laboratory directed evolution. The researchers apparently deliberately fostered a line of organisms with particular hidden "cryptic" non-detrimental genetic variants that they designed and intended to select for at a future time, in order to experimentally demonstrate the theoretical mechanism. The results of the experiment demonstrate the efficacy of the intelligent design of the researchers which involves the evolutionary preloading of particular mutations that will be needed in the future. It has been suggested that the accumulation of these hidden "cryptic" genetic variants is a major factor in evolution of new structures, especially irreducibly complex machine-like systems. For instance this paper: Trotter, M. V. et al. 2014. Cryptic genetic variation can make “irreducible complexity” a common mode of adaptation in sexual populations. Evolution 68:3357-3367, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4258170/ . This is entirely theoretical speculation using computer simulation models. What could possibly go wrong in nature that they didn’t consider? Maybe stored and hidden “cryptic” genetic variants aren't as widespread as they think. Maybe it doesn’t affect most genes. More importantly, it is very probable that helpful mutations are much more rare than they hope. And helpful combinations become much more rare the more mutations there are. And harmful combinations would almost certainly swamp out any postulated helpful ones. All of these factors affect "cryptic" genetic variation just as much as non-"cryptic" genetic mutations. Most importantly, the case Michael Behe has made in Darwin Devolves undercuts these speculations by showing that even “helpful” mutations ("cryptic" or not) almost always involve the loss or degradation, not gain, of functional genes. This alternate evolutionary source of variation is no miraculous new way to achieve new irreducibly complex machine-like systems like the multitudes encountered in living organisms. doubter

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