ICh. Apocalyptic narratives all ’round, we are excited to see instead a moment of historical reflection and yes, a key time for change. But what are we all, if not change? It is only that we seem to be more aware of this change today, what with bubbles of all kinds, spectacular movies telling us what to believe or not.
One area of dramatic–and for many in the public, invisible–change is the field of evolution and development. The Central Dogma (formerly the Central Dogma of Biology, formerly the Central Dogma of Molecular Biology) and the Great Synthesis (aka The Neo-Darwinian Synthesis or The Modern Synthesis, interalia) have no wind left in their sails, and we find this most stimulating. Wikipedia notwithstanding, the explanation of what makes living things be what they are and do what they do seems firmly back to where it was left about one hundred years ago, as the crazed rush for a unifying theory of everything pushed all evidence and most deep thinkers aside to grasp at the funding coming from promising a solution to all problems in the world.
No more. Of course, there will always be a large group of grazers where the trough is deep, and the almost-religious zeal of politicians and financiers will make sure that bastardized feigns of biology such as the current Biofuel- and Global Warming crazes will continue to receive green pasture (or whatever the colour of the next global currency will be). But honest, working biologists are not wasting their time anymore: they are turning back to the bench and the field to start again with the hypotheses that were fresh back in the mid-1890s and now look quite amazing through the lenses of our new technological eyes. Would you be surprised to know that in 2010 Lamarck (minus Lysenko) should be a serious subject of discussion in evolution and development?
We cannot find words to recommend strongly enough the strange-aesthetics book written by Polish-born Eva Jablonka and British Marion Lamb:
Jablonka, E. and Lamb, M. 2005. Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life. MIT Press. Note that Jablonka would probably consider an error not to include the illustrator of the book, Anna Zeligowski, as an author.
If you are among those young humans who seem to be losing their connection with the written word, you may want to watch Jablonka’s one-hour lecture here.
Certainly, if you are seriously interested in this subject, you must not take a step without holding the incisive intellectual hand of Susan Oyama. Her books continue to be read and re-read in our lab:
Oyama, S. 1985. The Ontogeny of Information: developmental systems and evolution. Cambridge University Press. There is also a revised edition of 2000 from Duke University Press.