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Several questions on evolution, and mutation (rate)

Doug Yanega dyanega at denr1.igis.uiuc.edu
Mon Sep 9 19:12:34 EST 1996

In article <96Sep9.124817edt.860 at neuron.ai.toronto.edu>,
radford at cs.toronto.edu (Radford Neal) wrote:

> In article <dyanega-0809962157300001 at catalpa.inhs.uiuc.edu>,
> Doug Yanega <dyanega at denr1.igis.uiuc.edu> wrote:
> >> Yes to the origin of new function (i.e, the new function has
> >> evolved).  
> >
> >No. Evolution is a property of a population - "functions" do not evolve,
> >they arise. Evolution is the underlying change in the genetic material,
> >not the function that *results* from that change.
> Editorial standards at Nature, and major publishing houses, must be
> deteriorating.  Looking at just one recent issue of Nature (11 July
> 1996), I see the following uses of this terminology:
>      Page 124: Book review of "The Shape of Life: Genes, Development,
>                and the Evolution of Animal Form", by R. A. Raff.
>      Page 126: (far right column, in a review of another book), "In 
>                between are chapters on the evolution of stamens, ...".
>      Page 158 (middle left column): "...whereas the evolution of
>                trichromacy..."
> The article on page 127 also contains numerous uses of the word
> "evolution" that are difficult to make sense of in terms of your
> preferred definition of evolution as "change in the frequency of
> alleles".

That's because these folks are using the more colloquial sense of the
term, using the verb "evolve" as the root; each of the three cases you
cite above are, in a rather literal sense, shorthand for saying
"evolutionary history", making it more or less synonymous with the term
"macroevolution". Just substitute one for the other (e.g., "the
evolutionary history of stamens") and all of the statements make perfect
sense. It is quite common for people to use the term this way - it does
not alter the technical definition, however, nor necessarily imply that
the authors are unaware of the technical definition. I myself often use
the verb "evolve" in this way, but "evolution" - the *process* - has a
more specific definition, and I can live with this just fine. This kind of
thing happens in science, which is why people are often understandably
annoyed by what they perceive as "jargon". You get used to it, and learn
to be explicit. Besides, after all is said and done, no evolution in ANY
sense, whether it be the evolution of stamens, the evolution of proteins,
or the evolution of trichromacy, *can* occur without a change in allele
frequencies in some population somewhere. It is still the most
all-inclusive concept. I might go so far as to say the _sine qua non_.

At any rate, it's just about time to disconnect my computer, so I bid you
all goodbye for a month or so.

Doug Yanega     (dyanega at mail.inhs.uiuc.edu)
Illinois Natural History Survey, 607 E. Peabody Dr. 
Champaign, IL 61820  USA  (217) 244-6817 fax:(217) 333-4949
affiliate, University of Illinois Dept. of Entomology
"There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness is
    the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick

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