Physiology is rocking the foundations of evolutionary biology
Denis Noble Department of Physiology, Anatomy & Genetics, Oxford, UK
The ‘Modern Synthesis’ (Neo-Darwinism) is amid-20th century gene-centric view of evolution, based on randommutations accumulating to produce gradual change through natural selection. Any role of physiological function in influencing genetic inheritance was excluded. The organism became a mere carrier of the real objects of selection, its genes. We now know that genetic change is far from random and often not gradual. Molecular genetics and genome sequencing have deconstructed this unnecessarily restrictive view of evolution in a way that reintroduces physiological function and interactions with the environment as factors influencing the speed and nature of inherited change. Acquired characteristics can be inherited, and in a few but growing number of cases that inheritance has nowbeen shown to be robust formany generations. The 21st century can look forward to a new synthesis that will reintegrate physiology with evolutionary biology.