Three Things Biologists Rarely Know About Biology
|April 18, 2018||Posted by johnnyb under Biology, Evolution|
I’ve talked to a number of biologists, and it seems like there are a number of important facts that are left out of a standard biological education.
The following things seem to be either skipped or glossed over in biology education. These are based on my interactions with biology majors, grad students, and even post docs. Nearly everyone either has either forgotten them (which means their professors just mentioned them in passing) or they were never covered in the first place.
- The pervasiveness of directed mutation. Most biologists do not realize that directed mutations even exist, much less the extent to which they exist. This is due both to a lack of knowledge about the mutational systems which are known, as well as to a lack of understanding of what it means for something to be directed. Most biologists are trained to think of mutations as being “undirected” if they aren’t 100% on-target. However, there are systems which reduce the mutational search space by well over 99%. Within the tiny space remaining, the search may be random, but it is directed because (a) it is triggered by a need of the organism, and (b) it skips a significant chunk of the genome which is not likely to carry the result.
- The significance in symbiosis in evolution. Most biologists are only trained to see mutations as being significant in evolution. That any change in form or interbreedability must be due to mutation. The one exception is at the beginning of Eukarya, they permit themselves to believe in endosymbiosis. However, as numerous areas of biology have shown, gaining or losing a symbiont can actually generate significant morphological change in a single generation.
- The importance of non-genetic inputs to the resulting morphology. Many differences in form, including heritable ones, can result from non-genetic inputs. The simplest of these is prions, where the shape of a protein affects the shape of later generated proteins. If a similar protein has a different conformation, it can alter the conformation of later proteins. This can cause phenotypic changes which are heritable, but are not in any way genetic.
In fact, the field of Ecological Developmental Biology has a number of examples of #2 and #3. Organisms can change morphologies merely due to the presence of pheromones in the environment. If those triggers persist after several generations, oftentimes the trait will the “stick” even without the environmental driver!
Anyway, I’ve found that evolution has essentially blinded numerous biologists and funneled them all into an understanding of evolution which is directly counter to how organisms are experimentally understood to change. Certainly there are many great biologists who understand these issues. However, I might go as far as to say that a majority of biologists are poorly informed on these points.