Toward a Biology Worthy of Life > Genes and the Central Fallacy of Evolutionary Theory > Brief excerpt
A project by Stephen L. Talbott

The organism manages its own germline (4)

One aspect of the work by Gao and Liu, which was conducted on flatworms, shows how a worm modulates its gene expression by carrying a memory of the genes it expressed in previous generations. In this way, the changing conditions a species may be experiencing over time can be reflected in the inheritance of offspring produced by members of that species. According to Craig Mello, an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and 2006 Nobel prizewinner, this “could accelerate evolutionary change by increasing heritable phenotypic variation (without the need for DNA mutations). There is growing evidence that many organisms can track and respond epigenetically to gene expression patterns” (quoted in Physorg 2012).

And so, just as genetically identical cells within a single organism can differentiate into many different cell types, so, too, researchers are now learning how an organism with a given DNA sequence can have any of many dramatically different patterns of gene expression — and therefore dramatically different phenotypes — depending on its ancestral history (Ashe et al. 2012; Lee et al. 2012; Shirayama et al. 2012).

None of this is to belittle the role of inherited DNA. It obviously has a very special role to play. But, merely as a particular substance, it is far from embodying a biologically significant narrative, which can never be anything less than a whole-organism performance carried over from one generation to the next.

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