In a twist on 'survival of the fittest,' researchers have discovered that evolution is driven not by a single beneficial mutation but rather by a group of mutations, including ones called 'genetic hitchhikers' that are simply along for the ride.
Junaid Akhtar's insight:
"The finding goes against the traditional view of evolution being determined by individual mutations that provide a large fitness advantage by themselves," Desai said. "We found that small groups—which we call cohorts—of mutations were associated with increased survival. No single mutation is driving adaptation. The whole group, which includes hitchhikers, drives adaptation together."
I got this letter today from a systems biologist, Dr. Denis Noble of Oxford. It’s a made up letter, but it makes a very relevant point, regarding the similarity between Darwin and Lamarck’s ideas, and how Lamarck has been given such a bad press. Some references might come as a shock to a few neo-Darwinists!
The recent reviews in your columns of books by Dennett, Dawkins, and Behe are testimony to the unflagging interest in controversies about evolution. Although such purists as Dennett and Dawkins repeatedly assert that the scientific issues surrounding evolution are basically solved by conventional neo-Darwinism, the ongoing public fascination reveals a deeper wisdom. There are far more unresolved questions than answers about evolutionary processes, and contemporary science continues to provide us with new conceptual possibilities.