Thursday, January 10, 2008

Sounds like we're on the verge of a good old fashioned bio-smack down!

Benny Bleiman over at Zooillogix has a humorous take on the recent hubbub over the origins of altruism. For a less humorous (but more informative) take on the E.O. Wilson vs. Richard Dawkins face-off check out Ontogeny.

"Why do some creatures forgo their own reproduction to help their relatives survive and reproduce? While we all might like to believe that naked mole rats really do care and are thus willing to sacrifice their creepy little lives for the good of the colony, the true answer probably has more to do with gene frequency across generations and evolution.

A scene from the 2003 ant remake of "Saving Private Ryan". Needless to say, it did not fair well at the box office.

Since the late 1950's, the idea of 'kin selection' has been the most widely accepted explanation for such bizarre behavior in species. The basic premise of kin selection (before you all attack my summary, please note that I work in tech sales, not a genetics lab) is this: Natural selection tends to...

...weed out genes that put individuals at a reproductive disadvantage. When the gene, however, causes the individual to have a lessened chance of reproducing, but also increases the chance of the individual's relatives in reproducing, that gene may actually increase in frequency over time. Why? Because the individual's relatives also carry that gene. In these cases, the benefits that the gene causes to the relatives outweighs the losses that it causes for the individual and thus the gene continues to be passed along through generations.

What was her true motivation? The heavenly Father? Or a dominant gene?

The idea behind kin selection was originally proposed by JBS Haldane in 1955 and, though sometimes controversial, has been more or less widely accepted by the scientific community for the last 30-40 years. The idea even helped make Richard Dawkins a star, as a central idea in his 1976 bombshell The Selfish Gene.

Now, however, the whole idea of kin selection is being called into question by one of the most influential biologists of our time, E.O. Wilson of Harvard. Wilson has a new hypothesis that he is releasing in his upcoming book, Suck It! Just kidding the book is called The Superorganism.

"You're stupid," he seems to be saying.

According to Wilson, such behavior is not a result of kin selection, but of the fact that personal sacrifice by individuals increases the chances of overall colonies in surviving, and thus has been selected for over time.

Hmmm...sounds like we're on the verge of a good old fashioned bio-smack down!"

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