From Michael Brooks at New Statesman:
According to a growing number of researchers, the standard story of the influence of genes is overblown. So many other factors influence how we turn out as individuals and how we evolve as a species that the fundamentals of biology need a rewrite. “This is no storm in an academic tearoom,” a group of biologists wrote in the journal Nature in October. “It is a struggle for the very soul of the discipline.”
An organism’s environment is another complicating factor. Shape, for instance, is supposed to be genetically determined in fish. However, a trip to Lake Malawi has shown how shallow that idea can be. The lake’s cichlid fish are genetically unique, yet some species look a lot like those in the nearby Lake Tanganyika. Their big, pouting lips and protruding foreheads seem to be a result of environmental pressures and developmental pathways and not genetic instructions.
The shape of a sycamore leaf, too, is determined only in part by genetics. The chemistry of the soil the tree is growing in, even just its wetness, affects the outcome. And wetness matters to commodore butterflies: they emerge from the chrysalis orange in the dry season and blue in the rains.
So, life is complicated. More.
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