On the lateral transfer post

Well yes it was a joke. But it was based on the inappropriate manner in which the well-known work on lateral transfer was reported by New Scientist as showing that Darwin was wrong. That genes occasionally cross over taxonomic borders among single celled organisms by transduction (viral exchange), conjugation (sharing plasmid DNA) and transformation (reuptake of naked DNA in a medium) has been known for a while. What this showed was that gene trees and taxa trees don't exactly coincide. But for the animals and plants Darwin mentioned, evolution still runs in trees.

The other thing I was parodying is the view that there are single genes for traits. There's no gene "for" intelligence. There are genes that cause all kinds of things in the development of human brains and central nervous systems. Some genes upregulate the growth of cells, others cause a differential die-off. But there's no packet of genes that could possibly cause intelligence that could be transposed to another species with the exact same effect.

Third, the DNA that gets laterally transferred consists of small amounts that get attached to viral DNA, or which is a small portion that was released into the medium when a bacteria lyses (that is, when the cell walls rupture on the death of the cell), or, in the conjugation case when a plasmid is passed across. Large scale genetic transfer is not yet discovered. So even though genes that code for proteins can get passed across, you can't get genetic modules for whole traits.

Then there was the view that if Darwinian evolution is false, then creationism (especially the intelligent design kind) must be true. I was trying to show that there are more than one view out there and some can be, in fact, even less amenable to the creationist view than Darwinian evolutionary theory. The fallacy of false dichotomy that creationists use is false for that reason. There are an infinite number of possible alternatives, and a vanishingly small fraction involve creationism.

I apologise deeply to Professor Peter Grünberg, co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Physics, whose image I stole for Rillful (AP Rillful - April Fool, get it? Get it? Oh never mind). I hope he doesn't take offense.

More like this

You'll never know about Grünberg - until you find a dead giant magnetoresistive effect in your bed one morning...

By Pierce R. Butler (not verified) on 02 Apr 2009 #permalink

I recall that a certain t.o creationist was always blathering that, if evolution were true, lateral transfer would be pervasive at all levels, because it would be just so damned *useful*. Evolution doesn't work the way I think it should, ergo it is false.

You'd probably rather I hadn't reminded you ;-).

The point that I took from it is that you were also lampooning the over-reliance that some theological philosophers have on the teaching of the Ancients; quite often when I am trying to "sell" science as a process for understanding the ways of nature I am told that there are "other" ways of knowing. That greek guy you referred to led me to "another way of knowing," which perhaps "P." Behe could write about.

The only April Fools joke that actually fooled me this year was this one. But then, I think an April Fools joke that's actually plausible is cheating, really.

As for articles that aren't April Fools jokes but could easily be creatively elaborated as the basis for some, well, let's just say any birdbrain can tell you that evolution is real.

Large scale genetic transfer is not yet discovered. So even though genes that code for proteins can get passed across, you can't get genetic modules for whole traits.

doi: 10.1126/science.1142490
A case that almost whole genome of Wolbachia (a parasitic bacteria mainly found in arthropods) have transferred to the genome of its host.

By SittingDodo (not verified) on 04 Apr 2009 #permalink

So there is another case of endosymbiosis. This is not, in itself, disrupting the arthropod lineages, which still follow a tree structure in their phylogeny. It means that there is a slow process of genetic transfer just as there was in the origin of eukaryotes. Nevertheless, the subsequent taxon tree is articulating.