Sunday, January 10, 2010

Insinuations of Lamarckian Evolution and a Lamenting First Impression

I just had a read of Meet your viral ancestors - how bornaviruses have been infiltrating our genomes for 40 million years over at Not Exactly Rocket Science, and then promptly made a follow-up, though cursory, pass at the associated publication from Nature:

Horie, M., Honda, T., Suzuki, Y., Kobayashi, Y., Daito, T., Oshida, T., Ikuta, K., Jern, P., Gojobori, T., Coffin, J., & Tomonaga, K. (2010). Endogenous non-retroviral RNA virus elements in mammalian genomes Nature, 463 (7277), 84-87 DOI: 10.1038/nature08695

Sine Ed has already accomplished the task of detailing the paper (at the above link), I won’t bother to do so here, rather I’ll just provide my initial, perhaps somewhat imaginative, take on it.

My first impression of the work, once again emphasizing that I sometimes express imaginative tendencies, is that it suggests a Lamarckian process of evolution.

The paper reports on a genera of RNA viruses called ‘bornaviruses’ that seemingly have the capacity to enter, and remain in, in the germlines of their hosts. In the instance of primates, for example, the researchers indicate that bornaviruses have been passed to humans from a lineage stretching back 40-million years. Although the authors don’t make specific reference to Lamarck, they do add to the argument that in addition to demonstrating “functional, albeit weak, evolutionary conservation,” the viruses “may have some function in their host species,” such as being a causative agents of psychiatric disorders, AND EVEN being “a source of genetic novelty” as to become “a new source of genetic innovation”!

So, is the paper saying that the introduction of ACQUIRED CHARACTERS into the germline of a lineage has lead to GENETIC NOVELTIES with the demonstrated ability to translate to the expressed PHENOTYPE of an ANIMAL, thus acting as a source of INNOVATION. That seems to have a tinge of Lamarckism…

Fascinating findings and bold suggestions, but in my interpretation the word ‘innovation’ goes too far in that it implies adaptation, fitness benefit and positive selection. Let’s not forget that Lamarck’s theories also relied on the idea of progression; the belief that evolution advances form towards specific functional goals. The research ‘is what it is;’ but, I can’t help but think that its speculative portions could have written a little differently… I’d be surprised if the ‘tinge’ in this paper isn’t abused by the fundys; there might be a pattern emerging over at Nature

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