Mutation Quotes (18 quotes)
Evolutionary plasticity can be purchased only at the ruthlessly dear price of continuously sacrificing some individuals to death from unfavourable mutations. Bemoaning this imperfection of nature has, however, no place in a scientific treatment of this subject.
Faced with a new mutation in an organism, or a fundamental change in its living conditions, the biologist is frequently in no position whatever to predict its future prospects. He has to wait and see. For instance, the hairy mammoth seems to have been an admirable animal, intelligent and well-accoutered. Now that it is extinct, we try to understand why it failed. I doubt that any biologist thinks he could have predicted that failure. Fitness and survival are by nature estimates of past performance.
I have attempted to form a judgment as to the conditions for evolution based on the statistical consequences of Mendelian heredity. The most general conclusion is that evolution depends on a certain balance among its factors. There must be a gene mutation, but an excessive rate gives an array of freaks, not evolution; there must be selection, but too severe a process destroys the field of variability, and thus the basis for further advance; prevalence of local inbreeding within a species has extremely important evolutionary consequences, but too close inbreeding leads merely to extinction. A certain amount of crossbreeding is favorable but not too much. In this dependence on balance the species is like a living organism. At all levels of organization life depends on the maintenance of a certain balance among its factors.
In systemic searches for embryonic lethal mutants of Drosophila melanogaster we have identified 15 loci which when mutated alter the segmental patterns of the larva. These loci probably represent the majority of such genes in Drosophila. The phenotypes of the mutant embryos indicate that the process of segmentation involves at least three levels of spatial organization: the entire egg as developmental unit, a repeat unit with the length of two segments, and the individual segment.
[Co-author with American physiologist Eric Wieshaus (1947-)]
[Co-author with American physiologist Eric Wieshaus (1947-)]
Investigating the conditions under which mutations occur … requires studies of mutation frequency under various methods of handling the organisms. As yet, extremely little has been done along this line. That is because, in the past, a mutation was considered a windfall, and the expression “mutation frequency” would have seemed a contradiction in terms. To attempt to study it would have seemed as absurd as to study the conditions affecting the distribution of dollar bills on the sidewalk. You were simply fortunate if you found one. … Of late, however, we may say that certain very exceptional banking houses have been found, in front of which the dollars fall more frequently—in other words, specially mutable genes have been discovered, that are beginning to yield abundant data at the hands of Nilsson-Ehle, Zeleny, Emerson, Anderson and others.
It seems to me that the view toward which we are tending is that the specificity in gene action is always a chemical specificity, probably the production of enzymes which guide metabolic processes along particular channels. A given array of genes thus determines the production of a particular kind of protoplasm with particular properties—such, for example, as that of responding to surface forces by the formation of a special sort of semipermeable membrane, and that of responding to trivial asymmetries in the play of external stimuli by polarization, with consequent orderly quantitative gradients in all physiologic processes. Different genes may now be called into play at different points in this simple pattern, either through the local formation of their specific substrates for action, or by activation of a mutational nature. In either case the pattern becomes more complex and qualitatively differentiated. Successive interactions of differentiated regions and the calling into play of additional genes may lead to any degree of complexity of pattern in the organism as a largely self-contained system. The array of genes, assembled in the course of evolution, must of course be one which determines a highly selfregulatory system of reactions. On this view the genes are highly specific chemically, and thus called into play only under very specific conditions; but their morphological effects, if any, rest on quantitative influences of immediate or remote products on growth gradients, which are resultants of all that has gone on before in the organism.
Judged superficially, a progressive saturation of the germ plasm of a species with mutant genes a majority of which are deleterious in their effects is a destructive process, a sort of deterioration of the genotype which threatens the very existence of the species and can finally lead only to its extinction. The eugenical Jeremiahs keep constantly before our eyes the nightmare of human populations accumulating recessive genes that produce pathological effects when homozygous. These prophets of doom seem to be unaware of the fact that wild species in the state of nature fare in this respect no better than man does with all the artificality of his surroundings, and yet life has not come to an end on this planet. The eschatological cries proclaiming the failure of natural selection to operate in human populations have more to do with political beliefs than with scientific findings.
Mutation is random; natural selection is the very opposite of random
Mutations and chromosomal changes arise in every sufficiently studied organism with a certain finite frequency, and thus constantly and unremittingly supply the raw materials for evolution. But evolution involves something more than origin of mutations. Mutations and chromosomal changes are only the first stage, or level, of the evolutionary process, governed entirely by the laws of the physiology of individuals. Once produced, mutations are injected in the genetic composition of the population, where their further fate is determined by the dynamic regularities of the physiology of populations. A mutation may be lost or increased in frequency in generations immediately following its origin, and this (in the case of recessive mutations) without regard to the beneficial or deleterious effects of the mutation. The influences of selection, migration, and geographical isolation then mold the genetic structure of populations into new shapes, in conformity with the secular environment and the ecology, especially the breeding habits, of the species. This is the second level of the evolutionary process, on which the impact of the environment produces historical changes in the living population.
The central problem of biological evolution is the nature of mutation, but hitherto the occurrence of this has been wholly refractory and impossible to influence by artificial means, although a control of it might obviously place the process of evolution in our hands.
The Epicureans, according to whom animals had no creation, doe suppose that by mutation of one into another, they were first made; for they are the substantial part of the world; like as Anaxagoras and Euripides affirme in these tearmes: nothing dieth, but in changing as they doe one for another they show sundry formes.
The moment man first picked up a stone or a branch to use as a tool, he altered irrevocably the balance between him and his environment. From this point on, the way in which the world around him changed was different. It was no longer regular or predictable. New objects appeared that were not recognizable as a mutation of something that existed before, and as each one merged it altered the environment not for one season, but for ever.
The process of mutation is the only known source of the raw materials of genetic variability, and hence of evolution. It is subject to experimental study, and considerable progress has been accomplished in this study in recent years. An apparent paradox has been disclosed. Although the living matter becomes adapted to its environment through formation of superior genetic patterns from mutational components, the process of mutation itself is not adaptive. On the contrary, the mutants which arise are, with rare exceptions, deleterious to their carriers, at least in the environments which the species normally encounters. Some of them are deleterious apparently in all environments. Therefore, the mutation process alone, not corrected and guided by natural selection, would result in degeneration and extinction rather than in improved adaptedness.
The proof given by Wright, that non-adaptive differentiation will occur in small populations owing to “drift,” or the chance fixation of some new mutation or recombination, is one of the most important results of mathematical analysis applied to the facts of neo-mendelism. It gives accident as well as adaptation a place in evolution, and at one stroke explains many facts which puzzled earlier selectionists, notably the much greater degree of divergence shown by island than mainland forms, by forms in isolated lakes than in continuous river-systems.
The secrets of evolution are death and time—the deaths of enormous numbers of lifeforms that were imperfectly adapted to the environment; and time for a long succession of small mutations.
The theory here developed is that mega-evolution normally occurs among small populations that become preadaptive and evolve continuously (without saltation, but at exceptionally rapid rates) to radically different ecological positions. The typical pattern involved is probably this: A large population is fragmented into numerous small isolated lines of descent. Within these, inadaptive differentiation and random fixation of mutations occur. Among many such inadaptive lines one or a few are preadaptive, i.e., some of their characters tend to fit them for available ecological stations quite different from those occupied by their immediate ancestors. Such groups are subjected to strong selection pressure and evolve rapidly in the further direction of adaptation to the new status. The very few lines that successfully achieve this perfected adaptation then become abundant and expand widely, at the same time becoming differentiated and specialized on lower levels within the broad new ecological zone.
The universe came into being in a big bang, before which, Einstein’s theory instructs us, there was no before. Not only particles and fields of force had to come into being at the big bang, but the laws of physics themselves, and this by a process as higgledy-piggledy as genetic mutation or the second law of thermodynamics.
We do not know of any enzymes or other chemical defined organic substances having specifically acting auto-catalytic properties such as to enable them to construct replicas of themselves. Neither was there a general principle known that would result in pattern-copying; if there were, the basis of life would be easier to come by. Moreover, there was no evidence to show that the enzymes were not products of hereditary determiners or genes, rather than these genes themselves, and they might even be products removed by several or many steps from the genes, just as many other known substances in the cell must be. However, the determiners or genes themselves must conduct, or at least guide, their own replication, so as to lead to the formation of genes just like themselves, in such wise that even their own mutations become .incorporated in the replicas. And this would probably take place by some kind of copying of pattern similar to that postulated by Troland for the enzymes, but requiring some distinctive chemical structure to make it possible. By virtue of this ability of theirs to replicate, these genes–or, if you prefer, genetic material–contained in the nuclear chromosomes and in whatever other portion of the cell manifests this property, such as the chloroplastids of plants, must form the basis of all the complexities of living matter that have arisen subsequent to their own appearance on the scene, in the whole course of biological evolution. That is, this genetic material must underlie all evolution based on mutation and selective multiplication.