Evolution - the Extended Synthesis

Evolution unleashed
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The prominence that these four phenomena command in the discourse of contemporary evolutionary theory reflects their proven explanatory power, not a lack of attention.

Furthermore, the phenomena that interest Laland and colleagues are just four among many that offer promise for future advances in evolutionary biology. Most evolutionary biologists have a list of topics that they would like to see given more attention. Some would argue that epistasis — complex interactions among genetic variants — has long been under-appreciated.

Others would advocate for cryptic genetic variation mutations that affect only traits under specific genetic or environmental conditions.


Still others would stress the importance of extinction, or adaptation to climate change, or the evolution of behaviour. The list goes on. Or we could roll up our sleeves, get to work, and find out by laying the theoretical foundations and building a solid casebook of empirical studies.

Advocacy can take an idea only so far. What Laland and colleagues term the standard evolutionary theory is a caricature that views the field as static and monolithic. We see a very different world. We consider ourselves fortunate to live and work in the most exciting, inclusive and progressive period of evolutionary research since the modern synthesis. Far from being stuck in the past, current evolutionary theory is vibrantly creative and rapidly growing in scope.

Evolutionary biologists today draw inspiration from fields as diverse as genomics, medicine, ecology, artificial intelligence and robotics. We think Darwin would approve. Changes in the hereditary material are an essential part of adaptation and speciation. The precise genetic basis for countless adaptations has been documented in detail, ranging from antibiotic resistance in bacteria to camouflage coloration in deer mice, to lactose tolerance in humans.

Although genetic changes are required for adaptation, non-genetic processes can sometimes play a part in how organisms evolve. Laland and colleagues are correct that phenotypic plasticity, for instance, may contribute to the adaptedness of an individual. Many studies have shown that this kind of plasticity is beneficial, and that it can readily evolve if there is genetic variation in the response This role for plasticity in evolutionary change is so well documented that there is no need for special advocacy. More than half a century ago, developmental biologist Conrad Waddington described a process that he called genetic assimilation Here, new mutations can sometimes convert a plastic trait into one that develops even without the specific environmental condition that originally induced it.

Few cases have been documented outside of the laboratory, however. Whether this is owing to a lack of serious attention or whether it reflects a genuine rarity in nature can be answered only by further study. Lack of evidence also makes it difficult to evaluate the role that developmental bias may have in the evolution or lack of evolution of adaptive traits.


Developmental processes, based on features of the genome that may be specific to a particular group of organisms, certainly can influence the range of traits that natural selection can act on. However, what matters ultimately is not the extent of trait variation, nor even its precise mechanistic causes. What matters is the heritable differences in traits, especially those that bestow some selective advantage.

On both topics, further research will be valuable. None of these additions is essential for evolution, but they can alter the process under certain circumstances. For this reason they are eminently worthy of study. We invite Laland and colleagues to join us in a more expansive extension, rather than imagining divisions that do not exist.


We appreciate their ideas as an important part of what evolutionary theory might become in the future. We, too, want an extended evolutionary synthesis, but for us, these words are lowercase because this is how our field has always advanced The best way to elevate the prominence of genuinely interesting phenomena such as phenotypic plasticity, inclusive inheritance, niche construction and developmental bias and many, many others is to strengthen the evidence for their importance.

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Consider a replicator comprising a string of DNA 1, bases long. Community Reviews. One can reasonably argue, however, that evolutionary biology has never actually gone through a paradigm shift, at least not since Darwin Opponents contend that the modern synthesis is able to fully account for the newer observations, whereas others criticize that the Extended synthesis is not radical enough. Alessandro Tavecchio rated it it was amazing Sep 15, Conservative processes within biological systems are coupled with heat-generating processes, so there is an energetic cost associated with the production and maintenance of biological information.

Erwin, D. Darwin, C. Alcock, J. The Triumph of Sociobiology Oxford Univ. Bailey, N.

Prof. Ralf Sommer - Towards a synthesis of evo-devo and evolutionary theory

Wada, H. Waddington, C.

Nature , — Callebaut, W. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Details if other :. Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. Gerd B. Prominent evolutionary biologists and philosophers of science survey recent work that expands the core theoretical framework underlying the biological sciences. In the six decades since the publication of Julian Huxley's Evolution: The Modern Synthesis , the spectacular empirical advances in the biological sciences have been accompanied by equally significant developments wi Prominent evolutionary biologists and philosophers of science survey recent work that expands the core theoretical framework underlying the biological sciences.

In the six decades since the publication of Julian Huxley's Evolution: The Modern Synthesis , the spectacular empirical advances in the biological sciences have been accompanied by equally significant developments within the core theoretical framework of the discipline. As a result, evolutionary theory today includes concepts and even entire new fields that were not part of the foundational structure of the Modern Synthesis.

In this volume, sixteen leading evolutionary biologists and philosophers of science survey the conceptual changes that have emerged since Huxley's landmark publication, not only in such traditional domains of evolutionary biology as quantitative genetics and paleontology but also in such new fields of research as genomics and EvoDevo. Most of the contributors to Evolution, the Extended Synthesis accept many of the tenets of the classical framework but want to relax some of its assumptions and introduce significant conceptual augmentations of the basic Modern Synthesis structure--just as the architects of the Modern Synthesis themselves expanded and modulated previous versions of Darwinism.

Extended evolutionary synthesis

This continuing revision of a theoretical edifice the foundations of which were laid in the middle of the nineteenth century--the reexamination of old ideas, proposals of new ones, and the synthesis of the most suitable--shows us how science works, and how scientists have painstakingly built a solid set of explanations for what Darwin called the "grandeur" of life.

Kirschner, Marion J. Lamb, Alan C. Love, Gerd B.

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