Saturday, March 11, 2006


Expanding evolution: A broader view of inheritance puts pressure on the neo-darwinian synthesis

Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life by Eva Jablonka & Marion J. Lamb Bradford Books: 2005. 462 pp (Amazon UK | US).

Book Review by Massimo Pigliucci (Nature Magazine)


There have been rumblings for some time to the effect that the neo-darwinian synthesis of the early twentieth century is incomplete and due for a major revision. In the past decade, several authors have written books to articulate this feeling and to begin the move towards a second synthesis. In the past decade, several authors have written books to articulate this feeling...

...I framed the debate in terms of the integration of development, environment and genetics by articulating the concept of "developmental reaction norms"...

...Jablonka and Lamb provide a framework that includes not one but four sources of inheritance in living organisms: there is the standard genetic one, based on nucleic acids such as DNA and RNA; there are epigenetic inheritance systems, such as (but not limited to) chromatin marking systems and RNA-interference systems for gene silencing; third, there are behavioural inheritance systems, including behaviour- influencing substances (think pheromones) and social learning (both imitative and not); finally, humans have also developed a symbolic inheritance system based on the ability to communicate by manipulating symbols...

...The authors argue that there is more to heredity than genes; that some hereditary variations are non-random in origin; that some acquired information is inherited; and that evolutionary change can result from 'instruction' as well as selection. This may sound rather revolutionary, even preposterously close to lamarckism. But Jablonka and Lamb build on evidence from standard research in evolutionary and molecular biology, and their case should be examined on its merits, rather than being dismissed by a knee-jerk reaction...

...The clamour to revise neo-darwinism is becoming so loud that hopefully most practising evolutionary biologists will begin to pay attention. It has been said that science often makes progress not because people change their minds, but because the old ones die off and the new generation is more open to novel ideas. I therefore recommend this and the other books I mentioned on the future of evolutionary theory to the current crop of graduate students, postdocs and young assistant professors. They'll know what to do.

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This review is no longer available without a subscription but you can always email me and I'll see what I can do!

An alternative review can be found here

John Latter / Jorolat
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