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Natural selection - selective optimisation


Accidental events and natural selection
Christian de Duve Scientist
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Now, there is an implicit reasoning behind that statement. Namely, the reasoning as I see it is the following. Natural selection has no foresight. Natural selection just screens passively what... the form that is best adapted to survive and produce progeny under the existing conditions. It does that among the... the variants that are offered to it. It cannot invent the forms, so there may be much better forms but if they're not offered through natural selection, they won't... they won't be selected. And implicit... well, in that... in that... well, no, it's not implicit... what is known about the mechanism whereby these different variants are offered to natural selection – what is known is that these are accidental events. I mean, mutations, genetic modifications, are not programmed. They're not intentional. They're not... they don't appear... they don't occur in view of a certain goal. They are not goal directed. They are accidents. They're not chance events in the way that you would call chance events because they are... but they are accidents. They have causes, and they can be induced in some ways, but they are accidents. And that is known, and that is a very strong teaching of molecular... modern molecular biology. Mutations are accidental. And so... but what is behind... what has, I think, sort of implicitly been derived from the accidental nature of the mutations is that historically, natural selection at each of these important steps was offered only by chance a very limited array of possibilities to choose from, so that if it were to be started all over again, the tape should re-run and allowed to run... re-wound and... well, anyway, and allowed to... to play again as Steve Gould says, and then the outcome would be completely different because a different collection of possibilities would be offered to natural selection by chance.

Belgian biochemist Christian de Duve (1917-2013) was best known for his work on understanding and categorising subcellular organelles. He won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1974 for his joint discovery of lysosomes, the subcellular organelles that digest macromolecules and deal with ingested bacteria.

Listeners: Peter Newmark

Peter Newmark has recently retired as Editorial Director of BioMed Central Ltd, the Open Access journal publisher. He obtained a D. Phil. from Oxford University and was originally a research biochemist at St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical School in London, but left research to become Biology Editor and then Deputy Editor of the journal Nature. He then became Managing Director of Current Biology Ltd, where he started a series of Current Opinion journals, and was founding Editor of the journal Current Biology. Subsequently he was Editorial Director for Elsevier Science London, before joining BioMed Central Ltd.

Tags: natural selection, accident, mutations, genetic modifications, molecular biology

Duration: 2 minutes, 52 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008