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France’s Biology Year: Reimagining evolution as horizontal gene transfer


Catherine Jessus, former director of the French CNRS’s Institute of Biological Sciences, anticipating the launch of France’s Biology Year, has some interesting (non-flapdoodle) things to say about biology, answering questions:

Why do you think we should focus on the drivers of evolution in the coming decades?

C. J.: It was long thought that new species were created through point mutations in genes. But in fact, this is just one of many ways in which new organisms can come about. The main source of innovation lies in the modification of large sections of genomes, which happens, for example, via the exchange and fusion of genomes between species. For instance, we now know that the first eukaryotic cell emerged through the combination of an archaeon and a bacterium. The bacterium that had entered the archaeon gradually lost its autonomy, allowing the formation of the membrane compartments, especially the mitochondria, that characterise eukaryotes. The same thing applies to the emergence of plants: a eukaryote entered into symbiosis with a bacterium that was able to use light to produce energy, giving rise to the first microalgae. And it was this same mechanism that explains why mammals have a placenta that enables the embryo to develop within the mother’s body.

You mean mammals are also the result of gene exchange?

C. J.: Exactly. The placenta developed thanks to the transfer of genes from a retrovirus to an animal that laid eggs. This particular retrovirus was able to produce proteins causing cell fusions, and it was these proteins that gave rise to the placenta. Without this little retrovirus, we’d still be laying eggs! Examples like these demonstrate the importance of the exchange of genetic material between living beings, something that was long neglected.

Laure Cailloce, “The new frontiers of the living world” at CNRS News (November 7, 2021)

It’s probably not anywhere near as simple and certain as Catherine Jessus is making out. Viruses don’t likely do enough to create placentas. But the main point is, this definitely isn’t yer old biology teacher’s Split-the-Desk Rant for Darwin!!! Stay tuned.

I just finished watching a video on viruses in order to better understand what they are. At the end is brought up the proteins supposedly introduced by a virus that helps in the placenta. It gave the impression that this was a miracle change when it’s obvious that a whole system had to be established for this to happen. Learned more about viruses but left lots of questions unanswered.
Are Viruses Alive? - with Carl Zimmer
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tryg5UCp6fI He has written a book on this
Life’s Edge -The Search for What It Means to Be Alive
https://www.amazon.com/Lifes-Edge-Search-Means-Alive/dp/B08BTHVHMZ/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3J0HOYXL74EI1&keywords=carl+zimmer+life%27s+edge&qid=1638664523&sprefix=Carl+zimmer%2Caps%2C193&sr=8-1 jerry
Again based on the DNA model of Evolution. This is the vulnerability of traditional evolution. A zillion micro evolutions wherever the variation comes from don’t add up to macro evolution. It’s time to change tactics. jerry
Good historical sequence. Only one fashionable fault: Those megaviruses (or does she mean MAGAviruses?) that are now being released "for the first time" from permafrost. Humans have been through several major warm and cold phases, so we've been exposed to those pathogens before. It wouldn't be surprising if Eskimos and other northern tribes have immune capabilities left over from the previous exposures. polistra

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