The drive and the direction of evolution

The drive behind the process of evolution of species

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Abstract

Even after 150 years of propounding of the theory of evolution of species it remains a mystery as to what drove the process of evolution of species. The mechanism of natural selection is silent about the drive of the process. Randomness in the quality of a product [variant types] does not obviously mean that the process itself is undirected or undriven.

The process of evolution of species may be described as: “Procreation of variant types by the organism, independent of its environment and selection of the fittest variants by the environment in which the organism itself is an interacting integral part”. It must be noted that procreation is a regular phenomenon where as selection by the environment is a rare event.

Introduction

Wallace*followed by Darwin independently developed the theory of evolution of species based on the mechanism of natural selection. Natural selection is explained as a two step mechanism, 1] production of variant types by the organism and 2] survival of the fittest among the variant types. The fittest is selected strictly by the environment in that those variant types that can adapt to the environment will survive and rest of the variants will disappear. Further the environment does not influence the process of production of variant types by the organism. The morphological features of variant types vary randomly. Though the process of evolution is not preprogrammed 1 it has directionality.
 

                                                     

Random and non random variations

Considering the process of evolution of species as any other process we may apply the knowledge/ techniques of Statistical Process Control [SPC] to the process of evolution 2 also. Random variations are natural, follow Gaussian distribution which is also known as natural or normal distribution which shows a bell shaped curve if plotted on a graph sheet. Random variations are due to chance causes which are many, can be identified only by keen observation and will show feeble effect on the quality of the product that is the variant type of organism in the context of evolutionary process. As against this there may be non random variations which are few, show significant change in the quality of the product [variant type] and are due to assignable causes which are readily identifiable. All processes are not centered on a mean value. Some processes are driven/ directional to achieve higher values than the mean for example 3 in floatation process the operators try to achieve grades of concentrates as higher as possible without reducing the recovery of the mineral.
The terms random and non random have specific and inter related meanings depending on the context. Random refers to amorphous, absence of structure, isotropy, no or low information or information entropy, absence of a trend or direction, freedom and choice where as non random refers to structure, anisotropy, trend or direction, deterministic and information/ programmes.
 
 

Drive and Direction

To be clearer about the drive and direction let us take the example of the Dam and the Stream. Water flows from the dam into the stream and if we measure the changes in the flow rate of water in the stream under normal conditions we note that the flow rate is not strictly constant but varies randomly according to the Gaussian law of natural distribution. We can direct the flow of water into channels by constructing gates and control the direction of water flow. What drives the water to flow? Is it the random variations in the currents [flow rates of water] or the gates? Or both these factors cause the flow? Fortunately none of these two factors!
It is the potential energy of the water in the dam that drives the flow of water. Potential energy is due to the difference in the levels of water between the stream and the dam. If the level difference becomes zero, the water will stop flowing. Indeed water may flow naturally without dam and gates as leakages or over flow from lakes to streams as directed by the topology of the landscape. Suddenly and periodically the water flow rate may be non random due to floods that lead to the formation of new channels.
 
 

The Drive of evolution

Selection of the fittest is by the environment but what makes the organism to produce? Indeed natural selection does not answer this question! We can infer however, irrespective of changes in the environment the organism produces and the random variations [morphological at organism level or genetic at genome level] are natural variations that we see in the quality of a product of any other process. The answer to this question comes from Sigmund Freud 4 who identified two primary instincts that all organisms have viz self preservation and procreation which are two faces of the same coin. Thus what drives the process of evolution of the species is the instinct procreation which is intrinsic to the organism. Natural selection is the main cause of the directionality of evolution but the drive comes from the instincts of the organism which are internal to the organism. 

 

Selection 

Selection may be 5 stabilizing or directional. In a population of dogs say A group the height of  legs will vary randomly following Gaussian distribution having a mean value say x centimeters. The random variations in the leg heights in population A indicate stabilizing selection. If a population B branched out from A having a mean value of leg heights at y centimeters then the distribution of leg heights in population B  are random and also follow Gaussian distribution. However a plot of the leg heights of both A and B populations will show a bimodal distribution and the shift of mean value from x to y centimeters is non random which is due to directional selection.
 

 

Organism induced environmental changes

We know that the environment is by no means constant but is ever changing. In the context of evolution of species and in the beginning, George Wald wrote 6 , “The environment is given; the organism’s problem is to adapt to it or die. It has become apparent lately, however, that some of the most important features of the physical environment are themselves the work of living organism. Two such features have just been named. The atmosphere of our planet seems to have contained no oxygen until organisms placed it there by the process of photo synthesis. It is estimated that at present all the oxygen of our atmosphere is renewed by photosynthesis once in every 2000 years, and all that carbon dioxide passes through the process of photo synthesis once in every 300 years. In the scale of geological time, these intervals are very small indeed. We are left with the realization that all the oxygen and carbon dioxide of our planet are the products of living organism, and have passed through living organism over and over again”.
E. Coli changes its hydrophilic surface [skin] to hydrophobic 7 when placed in an uninhabitable environment of 5% solution of sodium chloride to escape death by repelling water molecules near its skin. That is by a temporary adaptive response E. Coli changes its nearest environment for survival.
Thus we see that environment too co evolves along with the organism and the organism itself may at least partly cause changes in the environment in other words the organism may cause suitable changes in its surroundings that in turn help survival of the organism. The good example is evolution of new species from anaerobic environment into aerobic environment.
 

 

Discussion

Surely when we put the switch on the electric bulb glows but the switch itself is not the source of electric current and we know that the current [the flow of electrons] is due to the potential difference between positive and negative charges. Natural selection is the main mechanism through which the process of evolution of species proceeded but the drive is due to the instincts of the organism which are intrinsic to the organism. The theory of evolution is incomplete without the study of instincts and more importantly the study of the genetic basis of instincts. What is that potential that causes genes to flow? The mystery of life is not in the ongoing bio chemical reactions in living cell, or in the mechanism of natural selection but in the self controlled programmed behavior of genes and their expression at organism level for example as instincts. All this may be para psychological information processing phenomenon that has a genetic basis and add to this the under lying electronic structures of DNA where the actual information processing 8 might be taking place.
While characteristics of the procreated may vary randomly the act and process of procreation in itself is not random but a well directed one. The variations in the diameter of a shaft may be random but the process of turning a shaft to a particular diameter in a lathe machine is by no means random. Procreation is a directed act for the purpose of [self] preservation of the species. Evolution is a purposeful process that preserves life forms. How senseless it is to say evolution of species has no purpose?
Is it not ridiculous to talk of a glowing electric bulb that has a switch but no source of power?  Can a bulb glow without power supply? Can the water in a stream flow without the level difference or without a pump? Is it not ridiculous to say that the process of producing shafts of diameter d plus or minus v centimeters is random?
While the selection by the environment plays significant role in setting the direction of evolution it is important to note 9- 11 that certain mutations under particular conditions may be non random that can impart directionality. Further the impact of viral, bacterial and fungal infections, followed by symbiosis 12 in setting the directionality of evolution can not be ignored.
 

 

Closing Remarks

[1] Natural selection is just a mechanism that can not fully explain the evolution of species with out considering the instinctual behavior of organism such as self preservation and procreation. The drive behind the process of evolution of species is due to the instincts of the organism. Instincts are not extrinsic to the organism but are intrinsic.
[2] Instinctual behavior of living organism is what we observe day in and day out. Saying that instincts have no genetic basis is pseudo science of highest order.
[3] Better way of stating natural selection is: Procreation of variant types by the organism independent of its environment and selection of some variants by the environment in which the organism itself is an interacting integral part. It may however be noted that procreation is a regular phenomenon where as selection by the environment is a rare event that can be identified by non random changes in the morphology of the organism.
[4] The process of evolution of species is self driven and serves the purpose of self preservation of life forms. Random, undirected variations in the product quality by no way mean that the process itself is not directed or purposeless.
 

 

Acknowledgement

The author is thankful to Dr. D. Ravindranath, Prof. N. C. Aery and Prof. A. K. Purohit for their moral support and for providing the reprints of the articles. Special thanks are due to Eng. John Britto for his help in preparing the manuscript and for the useful discussions.
 
 

References 

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