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Scientists at Stanford discovered something I don't understand. Then a writer simplified it for the Internet, making it worse. Then I read about it and my brain added a few misconceptions, as usual. That's how I roll. Anyway, now I am left with this question: Is this a big deal or a little deal?

http://io9.com/5083673/princeton-scientists-discover-proteins-that-control-evolution


This story didn't exactly set the media on fire, which leads me to believe it is a small matter, potentially adding a detail to the Theory of Evolution.

But perhaps it is the first solid evidence of my theory that spacetime is like a huge donut, or Mobious strip if you like, and future scientists will find a way for humanity to survive the black hole that devours the universe. They create the physical equivalent of a computer program that is so small it is unaffected by the forces that crush the universe. Over a few billion years, the program chugs along, guiding evolution to produce humans once again, thus we are all reborn. And since the universe is deterministic, it happens the same way every time.

Or not.

My only question today is whether this discovery might lead to a big change in the generally accepted Theory of Evolution. 

 
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Nov 13, 2008
Excellent post, Scott.

This brings up one of the big unanswered questions in the whole theory of evolution, to wit: mutations in response to environmental changes don't seem to work.

Now understand I'm not a biologist, but here's my impression of what I've read. As with you, I'm certain that some things here are wrong or oversimplified, but here goes.

Take the example of fruit fly generation who is exposed to a new pesticide. Classic evolution will tell you that some of the flies are less susceptible to the new substance; the ones who are susceptible die off while the ones who aren't, breed. OK so far.

But if you follow the generations of the flies past that point, you find that the mutation that gave the immunity virtually always weakens the organism in some other significant way, so that after a number of generations, those flies in which the mutation breeds true die off. Those who return to the original genome are the ones who continue on the fruit fly race, so to speak. Sort of like saying a mutation makes you immune to typhoid but also gives you hemophilia. That's great as long as there's a typhoid epidemic, but overall doesn't help you in the long run. A net loss due to the mutation.

So take a look at man's evolution from the common ancestor of the ape. We've all heard that we're something like 98.8% genetically common to a gorilla, our closest living similar species. But what you don't generally hear is that that works out to something like 60,000,000 genetic differences. So now you have 60 million chromosome pairs, each one of which has to mutate into something that benefits the survival of the species; that is, something that does more good than harm.

It supposedly took about four million years for the process to become complete. That doesn't seem like anywhere near enough time. So now you have one of the big problems with evolution.

I don't know how this discovery really affects the theory. It appears that the study is saying that the proteins in question somehow know in advance if a certain mutation is going to be beneficial or not. Unless it's a mutation that has already been tried before and failed, it doesn't seem like that would be of much benefit to a new mutation necessary for creating a new species from an old one. And for the protein to 'know' that, the new failed species would have to somehow have kept its genome in the system, so to speak. That could tie into the issue of why so much of the human genome (approximately 95%) doesn't seem to do anything (so-called 'junk DNA').

But still, it seems like these proteins could only affect past failures rather than predict future results. So we still have to figure out how the good mutations survive without millions of transition species, each of which would have to be successful. That is a big question to answer if you're going to ignore the possibility of some external force guiding evolution in some way.

In any case, a very interesting and thought-provoking issue.

As to the whole black hole question, I'm about to start reading a book called "The Black Hole War" by Leonard Susskind, which gives an overview of the different takes on what happens within a black hole when matter/energy is consumed by it. It seems that Hawking and Susskind disagreed on this. Anyway, I'll get back to you when I finish the book.
 
 
Nov 13, 2008
I think this is the original article, R. Saunders

http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S22/60/95O56/index.xml?section=topstories

 
 
Nov 13, 2008
This protein actually works on a much smaller scale than fur, wings or body style. There is a very specific process called the "electron transport chain" and when that chain is disrupted, these proteins respond by causing mutations to the organism which restore this vital function.

It certainly does not prove or disprove evolution, but establish that in this case there is a failsafe for random mutations so that if they are harmful in this context they can be corrected.
 
 
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Nov 13, 2008
What this study does show is how little we (humans) understand about anything. Conventional scientific wisdom tells us things like evolution is a random process and global warming is a human-caused phenomenon. Both of these things are far from proven by any means, but it is currently politically-correct to BELIEVE them.

As we continue on, I'm sure we will find (as we have in the past) that some of the things we were sure we understood will be proven wrong.
 
 
Nov 13, 2008
Scott, you said:

"future scientists will find a way for humanity to survive the black hole that devours the universe. "

Let's look at this logically. It has been documented that around 80% of scientists are of the liberal persuasion (NOT that there's anything wrong with it). With that in mind, what would motivate said scientists to design a program that will destroy the Democratic party? It does not compute.

 
 
Nov 13, 2008
I don't think they are explaining it very well. How could a "biological structure" know what changes would result in "improved fitness" for the organism? A longer neck or lighter fur might be good for some creatures in some environments but bad for others.
 
 
 
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