EVOLUTION DAY: EVOLUTION EVOLVES - EVOLUTION 1.0 TO 2.0?
QUOTE: “What is dangerous is not to evolve.” Jeff Bezos
QUOTE: “I think the biggest innovations of the twenty first century will be in the intersection of biology and technology.” Steve Jobs
On 24 November AllTheus released the “Evolution is True” design series collection to celebrate Evolution Day (and indeed every day), commemorating the date in 1859 when Charles Darwin published “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection”. The individual pictures celebrate respectively:
- Charles Darwin’s seminal book on natural selection’s role in evolution but we should also acknowledge Alfred Russel Wallace’s The Exorcist horror film provided some inspiration to show Darwin as “The Evolutionist” exorcising the demon of fundamentalist creationism surrounded by a circle of life encoded in DNA
- Mendel’s work on dominant and regressive characteristics in peas in the 19th century after Gauss and others were developing the mathematics enabling our information age was evolving. The fact that Mendel was a monk is also captured in The Evolutionist design by showing a crucifix – religion does not have to be a barrier to scientific inquiry and progress;
- the discovery of the DNA’s double helix shape as the means of inheritance with a representation of Photo 51 gives a nod to Rosalind Franklin’s role in its discovery along with Watson & Crick (Dr Franklin’s work on molecular biology of virus’s is also a precursor to the work being done to develop a Covid 19 vaccine. Coincidentally 2020 was also the centenary of Rosalind Franklin’s birth as well as the 30th anniversary of the Human Genome Project discussed on a BBC Inside Science podcast here. The “Guardians of The Genome” design was inspired by Cambridge University’s Dr Serena Nik-Zainal discussing the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer (c 15 minutes into the BBC’s Inside Science 25 Jun 2020 podcast on the 20th Anniversary of the Human Genome Project);
- the recognition that the concept of human evolution has itself evolved from a linear path to us, a (highly debatable) ‘wise ape’, instead to a newer conception that we hail from a far more nuanced hybridization of many different proto-human strains (Australian Broadcasting Corporation Science Show, 7 Nov 2020 podcast here); &
- the promise (& threats and ethical considerations) of a more directed genetic modification through the application of Clusters of Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) capabilities (DARWINISM 2.0 design). An excellent short and accessible podcast featuring Professor Eben Kirksey outlining some of the issues is here and Dr Jennifer Doudna’s own book “A Crack In Creation” is an excellent read on the subject.
(Further related books and podcast links are supplied below)
We also have a couple of lighter hearted comics and pictures in the series featuring a representation of author, film buff, geneticist and podcaster Dr Adam Rutherford as “The Geneticist” rather than “The Exorcist”, a groan inducing “dad joke” involving the Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA) and a CRISPR-enhanced astronomer with eyes (almost???) large enough to detect radio waves.
Tell us what CRISPR enabled enhancement you would want to better perform in your favourite &/or professional STEAM field at firstname.lastname@example.org?
To be successful life must act against entropy and have the capacity to change as information comes in from its environment and responses echo through experiments that are tried, fail and succeed through natural selection.
Currently our sample size of one for planets supporting life in the whole cosmos makes our predictions about what exobiology might exist somewhat speculative as does our thinking on the origins of life on Earth and the Last Universal Common Ancestor (Luca) discussed by the BBC’s Infinite Monkey Cage and Inside Science podcasts here and here.
QUOTE: “Why be kind to one another. We are all we have” Ciclops.org member comment from The Day The Earth Smiled
Sir Paul Nurse has mused however that all life would be based on polymer chemistry to enable information storage that can then be transcribed to do chemical work. Humanity now has the burgeoning fields of astronomy, information processing and rocketry to help us find signs of life, maybe even intelligent life, on other planets or moons if not in our solar system then somewhere in the Milky Way.
In October 2020 the Nobel Prize For Chemistry was awarded to Professors’ Jennifer Doudna and Jacqueline Charpentier for their development of CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors. CRISPR allows researchers to make precise changes to the DNA of living things and potentially transcend evolution by natural selection leapfrogging that blind watchmaker evolutionary mode.
We know our selective breeding of animals and plants has yielded huge results over hundreds of years as recently discussed in evolutionary biologist Beth Shapiro’s “Life As We Made It” book. CRISPR technology allows us to try more targeted adjustments of genetic material to improve progress in medicine, senescence, catalysis, food production and many other fields. It. However genetic engineering must necessarily wrestle with many equity, equality and other ethical considerations (as is the case in much cross-disciplinary work today) particularly if used in humans - we certainly don’t want to repeat the errors in practice and thinking of (Darwin’s cousin) Francis Galton-inspired eugenics movement but we may want to reduce the gene load of certain inherited conditions. Nobel laureate Doudna’s own book itself contains cautionary notes about the possible misuse of the technology. Maybe we can learn from, and speed up the formation of, some of the regulatory frameworks and protections that are being developed to control the excesses of data and social media empires.
The 2020 Nobel Prize for Chemistry award now brings closer to 60 the number of women who have won a Nobel Prize. Whilst an improvement it is still a glaring signal that equality of capability is not yet translating to equality of opportunity in gender and may other dimensions of our diverse society. What a waste of talent that detracts from our delivered vs potential STEAM-powered frontier! In our own small way we hope to improve this situation with our donations to www.roomtoread.org that your purchases help enable.
It is interesting too to consider how science evolves - particularly when diverse evidence is excluded - and gets interpreted & how different interpretations of evidence can actually end up with different political views & outcomes. Sadly “the survival of the fittest” dictum (coined by philosopher and sociologist Herbert Spencer) has sidelined the idea that it is zoologist Karl Kessler’s mutual aid that is the more successful model in nature than red-clawed competition. With Earth’s environment being impacted by human activity it is worthwhile to consider Germany’s Chancellor Merkel’s exhorting us to consider a global effort rather than narrow nationalism so that we can mutually aid and survive together.
“What Is Life: Understanding Life In Five Steps”
Sir Paul Nurse, discusses his book here. Its worth reading even if you don’t get past the first chapter’s excellent exposition of the “atom” of life – the cell and makes a nice companion for “What is Life?” by Erwin Schrodinger
“The Demon In The Machine: How Hidden Webs of Information Are Finally Solving The Mystery Of Life”
“An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary Science of Our Immune System”
Matt Richtell (included as a Covid-relevant item on our amazing immune system featuring work by Dr Anthony Fauci evidencing that he knows a little bit more than most presidents on the subject here)
“A Series of Fortunate Events: Chance and the Making of the Planet, Life, and You” Professor Sean B Carroll (the biologist not the physicist!) He discussed the book here. Each of us is the result of a 1 in 70 trillion chance so treasure each and every one of AllTheUs :-))
This View of Life: Completing The Darwinian Revolution
Professor David Sloan
The Mutant Project: Inside The Global Race to Genetically Modify Humans
Professor Eben Kirksey (and a curator of The Multispecies Salon.org) with a short Youtube clip here
Hacking The Code Of Life: How Gene Editing Will Rewrite our Futures
FOR YOUNGER READERS
Amazing Evolution Anna Claybourne
ABC’s Big Ideas here
Genetics Unzipped – a whole series of informative and accessible podcasts on, you guessed it, genetics here