Evolutionary biology

News from biology, and its implications for engineering

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Life itself

The forces and mechanisms that comprise evolution are typically described as 1) selective pressures upon populations 2) reproduction with discrete genetic inheritance and 3) genetic mutation and recombination.

This list is inadequate.

The most glaring omission is probably life itself: a reliable, coherent physical system of morphological unfolding, based upon differentiating steps under the guidance of genetic information. This stunningly robust developmental physiology, essentially always creates a functioning life. That is extraordinary, yet it is not investigated in proportion to its extraordinariness.

Life's doggedness is quite tangible, yet the nature of its force, and the source of its robustness is still a mystery. The issue is so overarching it is barely ever mentioned, except by specialists working on the origins of life, and then only occasionally. Without this force of life, natural selection could not take place, genetic information would have nothing to guide, and genetic mutation & recombination would be moot.

There's some scientific cultural artifact that makes discussion of a "life force" somehow sound religious. I'm not religious, but I get funny looks when I say "life force". One of the most basic biological mysteries is regularly ignored by the scientific establishment, much to the impoverishment of scientific discussion.