Heredity and Evolution

Evolution, simply put, is descent with modification. This definition encompasses small-scale evolution (changes in gene frequency in a population from one generation to the next) and large-scale evolution (the descent of different species from a common ancestor over many generations). Evolution helps us to understand the history of life.

Evolution is not simply a matter of change over time. Lots of things change over time: trees lose their leaves, mountain ranges rise and erode, but they aren’t examples of biological evolution because they don’t involve descent through genetic inheritance.  The central idea of biological evolution is that all life on Earth shares a common ancestor, just as you and your cousins share a common grandmother.  Through the process of descent with modification, the common ancestor of life on Earth gave rise to the fantastic diversity that we see documented in the fossil record and around us today. Evolution means that we’re all distant cousins: humans and oak trees, hummingbirds and whale.

There are four main theories of evolution:

  • Lamarckism or theory of inheritance of acquired characters
  • Darwinism or theory of natural selection
  • Mutation theory of De Vries
  • Neo-Darwinism or Modern concept of evolution.

 

Lamarckism

This theory was proposed by a great French naturalist, Jean Baptiste de Lamarck. This theory is based on the comparison between the contemporary species of his time to fossil records. Lamarckism is based on following principles:

New needs:  Every living organism is found in some kind of environment. The changes in the environmental factors like light, temperature, medium, food, air etc. or migration of animal lead to the origin of new needs in the living organisms, especially animals. To fulfill these new needs, the living organisms have to exert special efforts like the changes in habits or behavior.

Use and disuse of organs:  The new habits involve the greater use of certain organs to meet new needs, and the disuse or lesser use of certain other organs which are of no use in new conditions. This use and disuse of organs greatly affect the form, structure and functioning of the organs.  Continuous and extra use of organs make them more efficient while the continued disuse of some other organs lead to their degeneration and ultimate disappearance. So, Lamarckism is also called “Theory of use and disuse of organs.”  So the organism acquires certain new characters due to direct or indirect environmental effects during its own life span and are called Acquired or adaptive characters.

Inheritance of acquired characters:  Lamarck believed that acquired characters are inheritable and are transmitted to the offsprings so that these are born fit to face the changed environmental conditions and the chances of their survival are increased.

Speciation:  Lamarck believed that in every generation, new characters are acquired and transmitted to next generation, so that new characters accumulate generation after generation. After a number of generations, a new species is formed.  So according to Lamarck, an existing individual is the sum total of the characters acquired by a number of previous generations and the speciation is a gradual process.

In order to prove his theory Lamarck gave examples of evolution. Some of them are as follows:

Aquatic birds: Development of aquatic birds like ducks, geese etc. from their terrestrial ancestors by the acquired characters like reduction of wings due to their continued disuse, development of webs between their toes for wading purposes.  These changes were induced due to deficiency of food on land and severe competition. It is an example of both extra use (skin between the toes) and disuse (wings) of organs.

Flightless birds:  Development of flightless birds like ostrich from flying ancestors due to continued disuse of wings as these were found in well protected areas with plenty of food.

Snakes:  Development of present day limbless snakes with long slender body from the limbed ancestors due to continued disuse of limbs and stretching of their body to suit their creeping mode of locomotion and fossorial mode of living out of fear of larger and more powerful mammals. It is an example of disuse and degeneration of certain organs.

Criticism of Lamarckism

hard blow to Lamarckism came from a German biologist, August Weismann who proposed the “Theory of continuity of germplasm” in 1892 A.D. This theory states that environmental factors do affect only somatic cells and not the germ cells.

Weismann mutilated the tails of mice for about 22 generations and allowed them to breed, but tailless mice were never born. Pavlov, a Russian physiologist, trained mice to come for food on hearing a bell. He reported that this training is not inherited and was necessary in every generation. Mendel’s laws of inheritance also object the postulate of inheritance of acquired characters of Lamarckism.

 

Darwinism or theory of natural selection

Charles Darwin, was the most dominant figure among the biologists of the 19th century. He made an extensive study of nature. He went on a voyage on the famous ship “H.M.S. Beagle” and explored South America, the Galapagos Islands and other islands.

He collected the observations on animal distribution and the relationship between living and extinct animals. He found that existing living forms share similarities to varying degrees not only among themselves but also with the life forms that existed millions of years ago, some of which have become extinct.

He stated that every population has built in variations in their characters. From the analysis of his data of collection and from Malthus’s Essay on Population, he got the idea of struggle for existence within all the populations due to continued reproductive pressure and limited resources and that all organisms, including humans, are modified descendents of previously existing forms of life.

Main points of Darwinism are as follows:

Geometric increase: According to Darwinism, the populations tend to multiply geometrically and the reproductive powers of living organisms (biotic potential) are much more than required to maintain their number e.g.,  Paramecium divides three times by binary fission in 24 hours during favourable conditions. At this rate, a Paramecium can produce a clone of about 280 million Paramecia in just one month and in five years, can produce Paramecia having mass equal to 10,000 times than the size of the earth.

 Limited food and space: Darwinism states that though a population tends to increase geometrically, the food increases only arithmetically. So two main limiting factors on the tremendous increase of a population are: limited food and space which together form the major part of carrying capacity of environment. These do not allow a population to grow indefinitely which are nearly stable in size except for seasonal fluctuation

Struggle for existence: Due to rapid multiplication of populations but limited food and space, there starts an everlasting competition between individuals having similar requirements. In this competition, every living organism desires to have an upper hand over others.

 Variations: According to this law of nature, no two individuals except identical (monozygotic) twins are identical. This everlasting competition among the organisms has compelled them to change according to the conditions to utilize the natural resources and can survive successfully.  Darwin stated that the variations are generally of two types—continuous variations or fluctuations and discontinuous variations. On the basis of their effect on the survival chances of living organisms, the variations may be neutral, harmful and useful.  Darwin proposed that living organisms tend to adapt to changing environment due to useful continuous variations {e.g., increased speed in the prey; increased water conservation in plants; etc.), as these will have a competitive advantage.

Natural selection or Survival of the fittest: Darwin stated that as many selects the individuals with desired characters in artificial selection; nature selects only those individuals out of the population which are with useful continuous variations and are best adapted to the environment while the less fit or unfit individuals are rejected by it.  Darwin stated that if the man can produce such a large number of new species/varieties with limited resources and in short period of time by artificial selection, then natural selection could account for this large biodiversity by considerable modifications of species with the help of unlimited resources available over long span of time.  Darwin stated that discontinuous variations appear suddenly and will mostly be harmful, so are not selected by nature. He called them “sports”. So the natural selection is an automatic and self going process and keeps a check on the animal population.  This sorting out of the individuals with useful variations from a heterogeneous population by the nature was called Natural selection by Darwin and Survival of the fittest by Wallace. So natural selection acts as a restrictive force and not a creative force

 Inheritance of useful variations: Darwin believed that the selected individuals pass their useful continuous variations to their offsprings so that they are born fit to the changed environment.

Speciation: according to Darwinism, useful variations appear in every generation and are inherited from one generation to another. So the useful variations go on accumulating and after a number of generations, the variations become so prominent that the individual turns into a new species. So according to Darwinism, evolution is a gradual process and speciation occurs by gradual changes in the existing species.

Criticism of Darwinism

 

  • Darwinism is not able to explain the inheritance of vestigial organs.
  • The inheritance of small variations in those organs which can be of use only when fully formed e.g. wing of a bird. Such organs will be of no use in incipient or underdeveloped stage.
  • It was also refuted by Mendel’s laws of inheritance which state that inheritance is particulate.
  • It did not explain the Presence of neuter flowers and sterility of hybrids.

 

Mutation Theory of Evolution

The mutation theory of evolution was proposed by a Dutch botanist, Hugo de Vries. Some of the Important conclusions of experiments of Hugo de Vries were as follows:

  • The evolution is a discontinuous process and occurs by mutations (L. mutate = to change; sudden and inheritable large differences from the normal and are not connected to normal by intermediate forms). Individuals with mutations are called mutants.
  • Mutability is fundamentally different from fluctuations
  • Mutations are recurring so that the same mutants appear again and again. This increases the chances of their selection by nature.
  • Mutations occur in all directions so may cause gain or loss of any character.
  • Mutations are recurring so that the same mutants appear again and again. This increases the chances of their selection by nature.

So according to mutation theory, evolution is a discontinuous and jerky process in which there is a jump from one species to another so that new species arises from pre-existing species in a single generation (macrogenesis or saltation) and not a gradual process as proposed by Lamarck and Darwin.

 

Modern Concept Theory of Evolution(Neo-Darwinism)

Theories of Lamarckism, Darwinism and Mutation theory of evolution showed that no single theory is fully satisfactory. Neo-Darwinism is a modified version of theory of Natural Selection and is a sort of reconciliation between Darwin’s and de Vries theories.  Modern or synthetic theory of evolution was designated by Huxley (1942). It emphasises the importance of populations as the units of evolution and the central role of natural selection as the most important mechanism of evolution.  The scientists who contributed to the outcome of Neo-Darwinism were: J.S. Huxley, R.A. Fischer and J.B.S. Haldane of England; and S. Wright, Ford, H.J. Muller and T. Dobzhansky of America.

Some important observations and conclusions of modern concept of evolution are as follows:

  • Variability is an opposing force to heredity and is essential for evolution as the variations form the raw material for evolution. The studies showed that the units of both heredity and mutations are genes which are located in a linear manner on the chromosomes.
  • Natural selection of Neo- Darwinism differs from that of Darwinism that it does not operate through “survival of the fittest” but operates through differential reproduction and comparative reproductive success. Differential reproduction states that those members, which are best adapted to the environment, reproduce at a higher rate and produce more offsprings than those which are less adapted. So these contribute proportionately greater percentage of genes to the gene pool of next generation while less adapted individuals produce fewer offsprings.  If the differential reproduction continues for a number of generations, then the genes of those individuals which produce more offsprings will become predominant in the gene pool of the population.
  • Any factor which reduces the chances of interbreeding between the related groups of living organisms is called an isolating mechanism. Reproductive isolation is must so as to allow the accumulation of variations leading to speciation by preventing hybridization. In the absence of reproductive isolation, these variants freely interbreed which lead to intermixing of their genotypes, dilution of their peculiarities and disappearance of differences between them. So, reproductive isolation helps in evolutionary divergence.

Heredity is the passing on of traits from parents to their offspring, either through asexual reproduction or sexual reproduction, the offspring cells or organisms acquire the genetic information of their parents.

Mendelian inheritance is a type of biological inheritance that follows the laws originally proposed by Gregor Mendel in 1865 and 1866 and re-discovered in 1900. These laws were initially very controversial. When Mendel’s theories were integrated with the Boveri–Sutton chromosome theory of inheritance by Thomas Hunt Morgan in 1915, they became the core of classical genetics. Ronald Fisher later combined these ideas with the theory of natural selection in his 1930 book The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection, putting evolution onto a mathematical footing and forming the basis for population genetics and the modern evolutionary synthesis.

Mendel’s laws

Mendel discovered that, when he crossed purebred white flower and purple flower pea plants (the parental or P generation), the result was not a blend. Rather than being a mix of the two, the offspring (known as the F1 generation) was purple-flowered. When Mendel self-fertilized the F1 generation pea plants, he obtained a purple flower to white flower ratio in the F2 generation of 3 to 1. The results of this cross are tabulated in the Punnett square to the right.

Law of Segregation of genes: The Law of Segregation states that every individual organism contains two alleles for each trait, and that these alleles segregate (separate) during meiosis such that each gamete contains only one of the alleles. An offspring thus receives a pair of alleles for a trait by inheriting homologous chromosomes from the parent organisms: one allele for each trait from each parent.[6] Molecular proof of this principle was subsequently found through observation of meiosis by two scientists independently, the German botanist Oscar Hertwig in 1876, and the Belgian zoologist Edouard Van Beneden in 1883. Paternal and maternal chromosomes get separated in meiosis and the alleles with the traits of a character are segregated into two different gametes. Each parent contributes a single gamete, and thus a single, randomly successful allele copy to their offspring and fertilization.

Law of Independent Assortment

Mendel’s law of independent assortment, states that allele pairs separate independently during the formation of gametes. This means that traits are transmitted to offspring independently of one another.  Mendel formulated this principle after performing dihybrid crosses between plants that differed in two traits, such as seed color and pod color.   After these plants were allowed to self pollinate, he noticed that the same ratio of 9:3:3:1 appeared among the offspring. Mendel concluded that traits are transmitted to offspring independently.

Law of Dominance

Mendel’s Law of Dominance states that recessive alleles will always be masked by dominant alleles. Therefore, a cross between a homozygous dominant and a homozygous recessive will always express the dominant phenotype, while still having a heterozygous genotype. Law of Dominance can be explained easily with the help of a mono hybrid cross experiment:- In a cross between two organisms pure for any pair (or pairs) of contrasting traits (characters), the character that appears in the F1 generation is called “dominant” and the one which is suppressed (not expressed) is called “recessive.” Each character is controlled by a pair of dissimilar factors. Only one of the characters expresses. The one which expresses in the F1 generation is called Dominant. It is important to note however, that the law of dominance is significant and true but is not universally applicable. According to the latest revisions, only two of these rules are considered to be laws. The third one is considered as a basic principle but not a genetic law of Mendel.

 

Monohybrid cross

A monohybrid cross is a breeding experiment between P generation (parental generation) organisms that differ in a single given trait. The P generation organisms are homozygous for the given trait, however each parent possesses different alleles for that particular trait. A Punnett square may be used to predict the possible genetic outcomes of a monohybrid cross based on probability. This type of genetic analysis can also be performed in a dihybrid cross, a genetic cross between parental generations that differ in two traits.   Traits are characteristics that are determined by discrete segments of DNA called genes. Individuals typically inherit two alleles for each gene. An allele is an alternate version of a gene that is inherited (one from each parent) during sexual reproduction. Male and female gametes, produced by meiosis, have a single allele for each trait. These alleles are randomly united at fertilization.  Example: In the image above, the single trait being observed is pod color. The organisms in this monohybrid cross are true-breeding for pod color. True-breeding organisms have homozygous alleles for specific traits. In this cross, the allele for green pod color (G) is completely dominant over the recessive allele for yellow pod color (g). The genotype for the green pod plant is (GG) and the genotype for the yellow pod plant is (gg). Cross-pollination between the true-breeding homozygous dominant green pod plant and the true-breeding homozygous recessive yellow pod plant results in offspring with phenotypes of green pod color.  All genotypes are (Gg). The offspring or F1 generation are all green because the dominant green pod color obscures the recessive yellow pod color in the heterozygous genotype.

Monohybrid cross: F2 generation

The F2 generation would have genotypes of (GG, Gg, and gg) and a genotypic ratio of 1:2:1. One-fourth of the F2 generation would be homozygous dominant (GG), one-half would be heterozygous (Gg), and one-fourth would be homozygous recessive (gg). The phenotypic ratio would be 3:1, with three-fourths having green pod color (GG and Gg) and one-fourth having yellow pod color (gg).

Dihybrid cross

A dihybrid cross is a breeding experiment between P generation (parental generation) organisms that differ in two traits. The individuals in this type of cross are homozygous for a specific trait. Traits are characteristics that are determined by segments of DNA called genes. Diploid organisms inherit two alleles for each gene. An allele is an alternate version of a gene that is inherited (one from each parent) during sexual reproduction.   In a dihybrid cross, the parent organisms have different pairs of alleles for each trait being studied. One parent possesses homozygous dominant alleles and the other possesses homozygous recessive alleles. The offspring, or F1 generation, produced from the genetic cross of such individuals are all heterozygous for the specific traits. This means that all of the F1 individuals possess a hybrid genotype and express the dominant phenotypes for each trait.

 

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