The Scientists Strike Back

 I got several wonderful responses to the question, two posts down, about why the chimp genome is 11.5% “higher” than ours, and whether evolution has done anything to enhance human well-being.  Yesterday I heard from a prominent Philadelphia area developmental biologist who was reluctant to let me use his name because, as he puts it, “too many people are e-mailing their ministers’ remarks and praying for my soul.”

His answer was downright inspirational: 

 “1. Size doesn't matter much. The potato has 48 chromosomes, we have 46. Salamanders have enormous genomes, far bigger than ours, as do lungfish. There's a lot of gene duplication and non-coding DNA.”

“2. The evolutionary biologists do not use DNA as genetic determinists. Rather, they can look at common descent by seeing which non-coding DNA sequences are held in common. For instance, if cows and deer share sequences 10, 12, 8, and 11 (but not sequences 4, 5, and 6; and whales and hippos share sequences 10, 12, 4, 5, and 6 (but not 8 and 11), then it is very reasonable to assume that whales and hippos came from a common ancestor (that had 4,5,and 6), cows and sheep came from a common ancestor that had 8 and 11, and that all four groups had a common ancestor who had sequences 10 and 12...."

Okay, that was a bit technical but this really gets to the heart of the matter:

“As to the use of evolution for human well-being: for some people it's a life-sustaining idea that all the life on earth is related to one another. We are never strangers from nature. I like having family in nature. I feel sorry for those philosophers who say "man is alone." I find it amazing that I am related bodily to every other living thing on earth.”

Wow. What can I say but bless you …I mean, amen… I mean, thank you.  

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