Complexity

Larry just won the Triple Crown (or a trifecta, betting on the Triple Crown) with the third post in a trio of posts on a very important topic:
Facts and Myths Concerning the Historical Estimates of the Number of Genes in the Human Genome
The Deflated Ego Problem
SCIENCE Questions: Why Do Humans Have So Few Genes?
Alex Palazzo, madhadron, Ricardo Azevedo and PZ Myers add thoughtful commentary as well.
Of course, this is something that has been debated and studied (yes, in the laboratory) for a long time by people like Dan McShea so the issue is not going to be solved any time soon with a few blog posts.
But the anthropocentric bias is a big problem in studying and teaching biology and I try to at least briefly discuss the left wall of complexity (as much as it is itself contentious in the literature, I know) and the error of thinking of evolution as progressive (and inevitably leading to humans) when I teach about the origin and evolution of the current biological diversity. I wish it was easier to get that point through.

4 responses to “Complexity

  1. I was always struck by a Steven Jay Gould essay in which he remarked that evolution wasn’t progressive, but a random walk.
    Just as the drunk will slowly get farther and farther from the light post, so will various attributes (like size, brainpower, etc.) slowly get farther and farther from the first organisms.
    Those on the outer edge may think they’re special, but it was still just a random walk.

  2. That’s how I understand it too. Gould’s ‘The Drunken Walk’ explanation.
    Still takes a bit of a mental gear box shift though.

  3. While I hardly know a gene from a chromosome, I still took it pretty hard when I found out there are bugs, birds, fish, horses and amphibians that have more chromosomes than me. I decided I still didn’t need to study biology but I needed some sense that this shocking fact was OK. My crutch for the time being is that it takes genes to encode a developmental or phenotype feature but it it also takes more genes to turn off certain features [the horse, eg does not lose the gene for 5 toes, it turns off the outer toes] Except for the Tail, we haven’t lost much and we don’t molt or pupate and we mostly just added some brain … WE ARE LESS EVOLVED than most creatures if you only count physiological features. And with these rediculous brains, our evolution has stopped. from now on its the world that must adapt to us!
    Hey! at least I am not this screwed up! [please! tell me I’m not!]

  4. I would submit Larry’s posts for Open Lab 2007 if someone else hasn’t already done so, Bora.