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Evolution: The next 200 years   

2009-01-31 21:14:44|  分类: review |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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  • 28 January 2009
  • Magazine issue 2693. Subscribe and get 4 free issues.
  • For similar stories, visit the Evolution and Human Evolution Topic Guides
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    Richard Dawkins

    Which facts about evolution had to be true, and which just happen to be true? Did the genetic code have to be digital in order for natural selection to work? Could any other class of molecules have substituted for proteins? How inevitable was the evolution of sex? Eyes? Intelligence? Language? Consciousness? Was the origin of life itself a probable event, and therefore is life common in the universe?

    Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist at the University of Oxford

    Kenneth Miller

    I don't think there are basic "gaps" in the theory of evolution, which has proven to be a remarkably flexible scientific framework, brilliantly accommodating new data and even new fields of science, like molecular genetics. However, the most profound unsolved problem in biology is the origin of life itself. We know a great deal about the creative chemistry of the early Earth, but not yet enough to solve this problem.

    Kenneth Miller is professor of biology at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island

    Frans de Waal

    Why do humans blush? We're the only primate that does so in response to embarrassing situations (shame), or when caught in a lie (guilt), and one wonders why we needed such an obvious signal to communicate these self-conscious feelings. Blushing interferes with the unscrupulous manipulation of others. Were early humans subjected to selection pressures to keep them honest? What was its survival value?

    Frans de Waal is Charles Howard Candler Professor of Primate Behavior at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia

    Richard Fortey

    We need to know more about the role of geographical isolation in stimulating the production of new species. Is this factor responsible for the greater part of biodiversity? How does evolution produce enormously species-rich genera, such as Eucalyptus, many of which can coexist happily in the same habitat? I hope that this anniversary will result in a new impetus for field-based biology and palaeontology to answer such questions.

    Richard Fortey is in the department of palaeontology at the Natural History Museum in London

    Chris Stringer

    We still don't know what the last common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees looked like, where and how it lived, and what processes sent us down our separate evolutionary paths. There are now a few important fossils from Africa in the likely time period of between 7 and 5 million years ago, but for me they have not necessarily brought us close to an answer. More fossil discoveries - and perhaps research on the living species, including further genetic data - are needed.

    Chris Stringer is in the department of palaeontology at the Natural History Museum, London

    Andy Knoll

    Darwin explained how populations adapt to their environments, but Earth is a moving target, continually changing in response to both physical and biological forcings. The dynamic interactions between life and environment are imperfectly understood, but they underpin Earth's history and will determine the world our grandchildren inherit. The solution requires that we interject physiology - the interface between organism and environment - into analyses of how environmental change will affect life on Earth.

    Andy Knoll is Fisher Professor of Natural History at Harvard University

    David Dilcher

    At the time of Darwin, the fossil record of flowering plants did not seem to show signs of evolution, leading him to describe their origin as "an abominable mystery". It has taken a philosophical shift for researchers to rectify this. Where previous generations of palaeobotanists placed fossil plants in the living genus they most closely resembled, today we base our analysis upon careful observation of detailed morphological characteristics. As a consequence, we have an emerging fossil record of flowering plants that includes many extinct taxa and would have delighted Darwin.

    David Dilcher is a palaeobotanist at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville

    Niles Eldredge

    Darwin left us with a theory of adaptation through natural selection that remains at the core of modern evolutionary biology. What is missing, from my perspective, is the ecological context in which selection operates. What we need is integration of the data and precepts of everything from molecular biology to the geobiology of mass extinctions and evolutionary rebounds - entities and processes of vastly different spatiotemporal dimensions.

    Niles Eldredge is curator of palaeontology at the American Museum of Natural History, New York

    Steven Pinker

    How does selection leave its fingerprints on the genome? In particular, how does it work on the non-protein-coding parts, and what kinds of variation does it leave behind: a few common genes with small effects or many rare genes with large effects? This is necessary to understand how we differ from chimps and one another, and why we inherit diseases.

    Steven Pinker is the Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University

    Chris Wills

    The biggest gap in evolutionary theory remains the origin of life itself. We now know that life began, probably near volcanically active zones, about 3.8 to 3.5 billion years ago, at a time when there was no free oxygen in the atmosphere. In the laboratory it has been possible to replicate such conditions and produce amino acids, primitive membrane-like structures and some of the building blocks of DNA and RNA. More recently, it has been found that, along with protein enzymes, RNA can catalyse chemical reactions, and it has even been possible to construct RNA molecules that can copy parts of themselves. But the gap between such a collection of molecules and even the most primitive cell remains enormous.

    Chris Wills is professor of biology at the University of California, San Diego

    Geoffrey Miller

    Evolution's big gap is the lack of serious research funding. The US spends barely $1 billion a year on basic non-medical biological research, only a few per cent of which goes to evolutionary theory. To look at it from another angle, evolutionary theorists get far less support than a single US navy Ticonderoga-class cruiser ($37 million per year running costs) - of which 22 are operational. Only a few hundred researchers work on evolutionary theory proper, mostly in Europe and the US. We need thousands more, especially in China and India.

    Geoffrey Miller is an evolutionary psychologist at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque

    Eörs Szathmáry

    Might evolution by natural selection explain complex thought? We know that a form of selection occurs within our brains as we develop and learn - synaptic connections and pathways that work well are reinforced, whereas weak ones deteriorate. But evolution also requires repeated replication and mutation to generate the variation upon which selection works to give adaptive solutions. At first glance nothing seems to replicate in brain tissue. Any search for neuronal replication will have to take place at a different level - perhaps in the patterns of connections between groups of neurons or in their patterns of activity. The idea is not so far-fetched. We already know that genetic evolution by selection is continuously shaping our immune response. If Darwinian dynamics can give us the flexibility to cope with new diseases, why not also the flexibility to find cognitive solutions to novel problems?

    Eörs Szathmáry is a theoretical evolutionary biologist at the Parmenides Foundation in Munich, Germany, and the Collegium Budapest, Hungary

    Helena Cronin

    Ask not what gaps should be filled in evolutionary theory, but what gaps evolutionary theory should fill. For it is the key to understanding all living things - not least ourselves. It provides the only scientific understanding of human nature, so it should be transforming the social sciences and thereby social affairs, policy-making and our view of our place in the world.

    Helena Cronin is co-director of the Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science at the London School of Economics

    Elaine Morgan

    Darwin concluded that every species has been moulded by the habitat and lifestyle of its ancestors. So far, evolutionists have been unable to agree on an explanation of any of the distinctive physiological hallmarks of Homo sapiens. A more lenient reappraisal of Alister Hardy's aquatic origins theory might help.

    Elaine Morgan is the author of many books on evolution, including her latest, The Naked Darwinist (Eildon Press, 2008)

    Stuart Kauffman

    Darwin changed our thinking as much as any scientist. Life, as zoologist Ernst Mayr said, only makes sense in terms of evolution. But major issues arise, such as the fact that Darwin did not know about self-organisation. Abundant work over the past four decades has begun to show that self-organisation plays a role along with natural selection in the order in biology. One example is that lipids spontaneously form liposomes, the hollow bilayered vesicles that must have yielded the cell membrane. Another is the spontaneous order in genetic regulatory networks, the understanding of which may lead to regenerative medicine and new cancer therapies.

    Stuart Kauffman is professor of biological sciences at the University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada

    Simon Conway Morris

    "Evolution's biggest gap? Quite simple, old boy." Professor Mortimer leaned back and grinned. "Evolution equals change? Naturally, but that is only step one. What is life? A spectacular tightrope walk on a gossamer thread between vast regions of crystalline immobility and chaotic flux. If you don't like that metaphor, try thinking of a pack of cards a mile high with an elephant perfectly balanced on the top. And then there is its uncanny self-organisation. Cells to consciousness - impressive, isn't it? Darwin got it right, and so did Newton. But then physics had Einstein. Perhaps now it is biology's turn."

    Simon Conway Morris is a professor in the department of Earth sciences at the University of Cambridge

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20126932.600-evolution-the-next-200-years.html?full=true

     

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