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Explanation of species change before natural selection


Natural selection: the essence of the idea
Francis Crick Scientist
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Well, the… the essence of the idea is there is variation in… in the… in what is inherited and the favourable variations are selected because the other ones… other ones don’t leave sufficient offspring. They… they die or don’t… don't leave offspring in the right way. It's… it's very simple mechanism. I mean, we use it in the test tube nowadays. I mean, people evolve new molecules by natural selection, for example, because we can use… we can do it very rapidly because we can handle vast numbers, we can… we can handle more than a… ten thousand billion little molecules at once and so… forth, so we can select for rather rare events in a very rapid space of time. We can’t do it, of course, for large organisms, we can’t speed them up but… so, the process is very well understood. What is not understood is all the little gadgets and devices which nature has done in order to make it work a bit better or make it work more efficiently and there’ll probably be some surprises there. So that we… we don’t understand all the gadgetry which nature has evolved to make this process work in a better way, but as far as we can see, that is the main and… and… if not the only process which is involved. There is a certain amount of drift of things but there seems to be very little what’s called Lamarckian inheritance of something the… from the experience of the organism being passed onto the offspring which is the obvious idea to have, you see, that if you… if you exercise your muscles then your children will have bigger muscles, you see. That seems unlikely and certainly isn’t common.

The late Francis Crick, one of Britain's most famous scientists, won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962. He is best known for his discovery, jointly with James Watson and Maurice Wilkins, of the double helix structure of DNA, though he also made important contributions in understanding the genetic code and was exploring the basis of consciousness in the years leading up to his death in 2004.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: variation, inheritance, offspring, evolution, natural selection, molecule, organism, Lamarckian inheritance, Lamarckism

Duration: 1 minute, 42 seconds

Date story recorded: 1993

Date story went live: 08 January 2010