Archive for the ‘Evolution’ Category

Democracy, like natural selection, has no need for excellence

April 14, 2017

Natural selection gives traits that are good enough for survival up to the time of reproduction. There is no value to be gained by being anything beyond just good enough to survive and only till reproduction is accomplished. Natural selection is about being “good enough” and there is no force which drives towards excellence. Fast enough may, in fact, be much more successful for descendants than fastest. Strong enough is good enough and there is no advantage necessarily accruing from being the strongest. The forces of natural selection are quite satisfied with intelligent enough and do not persist towards increasing intelligence. The equilibrium position is mediocrity.

And so it is with democracies. Democracies are all about winning elections, not about selection of the “best” leaders. A winning candidate only needs to be sufficiently intelligent and sufficiently competent and sufficiently rich and  sufficiently cunning and sufficiently dishonest to ensure the capture of sufficient votes. There is no value, and there may well be a negative value, in having more of a vote-winning attribute than just necessary.

Given that excellence, of any attribute, must be a minority “thing” (the bell curve again), any system promoting the majority must inevitably promote a leveling down – a chase for mediocrity. Natural selection is all about increasing population. Extinction is failure and increasing population is the measure of success. Democracies pander to the majority in a population. There will always be more of the poor than of the rich, the unintelligent will always outnumber the intelligent and the incompetent will always swamp the competent.

Excellence in sport requires special coaching and training regimes for elite squads of young athletes. Academic excellence requires elite academic institutions. Excellence in science needs its ivory towers. Excellence in companies is achieved by autocracies (including monarchies) but never by democracies. Military excellence requires elite troops.  Excellence in government and in management requires autocrats. To achieve excellence in almost any field requires elitism. “Socialist principles” abhor elitism. It is not perhaps so surprising that the essence of “social democrats” lies in leveling down, in making a god out of mediocrity.

At some point humans and human societies will find the need to drive towards improvement and a search for excellence. With no pressure to increase population humans will be freed from the constraints of natural selection and will be able to target excellence. Natural selection will have to be given direction with a strong dose of artificial selection. Once poverty is eliminated (but not the poor who must always be there) and population is stable or declining, even human societies will be freed to chase excellence. Democracies will then need to acquire some spine by institutionalising  more than just a little whiff of autocracy. Voters and candidates for election will need to qualify, votes will be weighted and elected leaders will be autocrats for their terms of office.

Leaders might then begin to lead again rather than being followers of the mob.


 

Does life start when the egg is laid?

April 9, 2017

Birds and reptiles (and the duck billed platypus which is a mammal), lay eggs for their offspring. Their only interaction of the parents with the egg after it is laid is to keep predators away and to incubate it – which is often done by the male. The development of the embryo in the egg requires no nourishment or any biological intervention from the parents.

In the case of a chicken’s development, the egg when laid consists of a minuscule embryo (0.0002 grams) and nutrients. The chick hatches when the nutrients have been consumed and its weight has increased to about 30-31 grams.

Image result for development of a chicken egg

from EnchantedLearning.com

Is the chick alive when the egg is laid?

One could argue that the embryo at that point is not yet deserving of the label “chick”. But I think there is no rational way in which to question that “life” has definitely started by the time the fertilised egg is laid. In the case of humans a fertilised egg is called a “zygote” until it has implanted itself (about 6 -10 days after conception) in the wall of the womb. It is then called an “embryo”. It is called a “fetus” only from 8 weeks after conception and remains a “fetus” till the birth of a “child”. Just as a “chick” only emerges after egg hatching, a human “child” only emerges after birth. But in both cases life, life has begun much earlier. By the time a hen lays an egg, the genetic identity of the embryo in the egg has already been fixed. The unique genetic identity whether for chicken or for human is actually fixed when conception occurs. The implantation of a human zygote in the wall of the womb is the corresponding point when an embryo is defined. The genetic identity of the embryo has then been well established and the life of a unique identity has clearly begun.

An individual human time line is then not so complicated as the Great Abortion Debate would make it to be:

0: Conception: Genetic identity is established. Life begins as a zygote.

+2: Implantation in the womb: Life continues as an embryo.

+8: Life continues as a fetus

+40: Life continues as a child.

+1340: Child becomes adult when brain development is complete

+4720 (approximately): Life of that unique identity ends


The time when a unique identity is established and life begins is quite simply defined and the Great Abortion Debate is actually about the ethics of terminating that life at different times during its existence. It is trying to make an ethical distinction between breaking an egg for a breakfast omelette or killing a chicken for a roast dinner. (But note also that many vegetarians eat eggs but a chicken eater is never considered a vegetarian). Abortion, infanticide, murder or euthanasia are just labels for different times at which life is to be terminated. Abortion always kills a fetus (not a child) and infanticide always kills a child (not a fetus). But whether it is a zygote which fails to implant itself, or a fetus which is aborted, or a child killed for being the wrong gender, or an aged person being assisted to die, it is the same life, the same identity, which is terminated.

And, I note, ethics are always personal and cannot be imposed by a society on someone. But a society can always exclude someone from the club for not complying with its ethical code.

This Slate article unnecessarily complicates the matter only to try and justify a particular ethical view.

When Does Life Begin? It’s Not So Simple

It actually is just that simple. A unique genetic identity and life are established with conception.


 

Inheritance rules

March 8, 2017

Genes surely define the behavioural envelope within which an individual can operate. This envelope, though, is quite wide. Nevertheless, one would think that after some 10,000 generations of evolution as anatomically modern humans, living in societies where cooperation is primal, that all those beneficial behavioural traits which had a genetic component, would have by now been selected. But psychopaths are not extinct, anti-social behaviour is very common and compassion is not a survival trait to be selected for. Barbarism has not been deselected by evolution. It could be that the same genes which give religious fanaticism also give rise to artistic creativity.

One would also have expected that the intelligence we credit humans with, and see as a key differentiating factor from other creatures, would also have been selected as a trait. Of course intelligence is not so easily defined and it certainly is not just the result of an IQ test. There are suggestions, from brain size measurements, that intelligence, as given by brain size, peaked when we were still hunter gatherers, possibly because that was when individuals needed to be very autonomous and – by inference – quite selfish to survive.  IQ tests today are not a good predictor of the success of an individual in society, probably because the test does not capture those aspects of intelligence that have to do with leadership, team work or entrepreneurial ability.

There was a time when light and dark were outside human control. So far we have left evolution to take its slow, natural, wasteful, trial and error course. But the speed of natural selection is now completely out of sync with the speed of change. The few attempts to guide evolution have been discredited by the manner in which they have been applied. They have been based on the principles we have used to breed livestock and dogs by terminating unwanted characteristics and only allowing individuals with desired characteristics to have progeny. The Nazi experiments with eugenics and even Margaret Sanger’s objectives of controlling the black population in the US (by making abortions freely available) were horrible (still are in some instances), in their manner of execution. But the idea of guiding our own evolution is still sound and an idea whose time has still to come. We are already tinkering with eugenics – though in a very amateurish way – when foetuses are aborted, or IVF is used, or when sperm banks are drawn upon, or fertility drugs or surrogacy are employed. Now, we have a sort of eugenics by default. When foetuses are screened genetically as a matter of course, and when genetic manipulation and correction becomes possible then eugenics will have properly arrived.


 

3rd great “mass extinction” was due to an ice age and not to global warming

March 8, 2017

A new paper addresses the drivers behind the 3rd great “mass extinction” around 250 million years ago. It finds that it was due to an ice age and not due to global warming as many have speculated.

Björn Baresel, Hugo Bucher, Borhan Bagherpour, Morgane Brosse, Kuang Guodun, Urs Schaltegger. Timing of global regression and microbial bloom linked with the Permian-Triassic boundary mass extinction: implications for driving mechanisms. Scientific Reports, 2017; 7: 43630 DOI: 10.1038/srep43630

Universite de Geneve Press Release:

The Earth has known several mass extinctions over the course of its history. One of the most important happened at the Permian-Triassic boundary 250 million years ago. Over 95% of marine species disappeared and, up until now, scientists have linked this extinction to a significant rise in Earth temperatures. But researchers from the University of Geneva (UNIGE), Switzerland, working alongside the University of Zurich, discovered that this extinction took place during a short ice age which preceded the global climate warming. It’s the first time that the various stages of a mass extinction have been accurately understood and that scientists have been able to assess the major role played by volcanic explosions in these climate processes. This research, which can be read in Scientific Reports, completely calls into question the scientific theories regarding these phenomena, founded on the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere, and paves the way for a new vision of the Earth’s climate history. 

Teams of researchers led by Professor Urs Schaltegger from the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the Faculty of Science of the UNIGE and by Hugo Bucher, from the University of Zürich, have been working on absolute dating for many years. They work on determining the age of minerals in volcanic ash, which establishes a precise and detailed chronology of the earth’s climate evolution. They became interested in the Permian-Triassic boundary, 250 million years ago, during which one of the greatest mass extinctions ever took place, responsible for the loss of 95% of marine species. How did this happen? for how long marine biodiversity stayed at very low levels? 

Researchers worked on sediment layers in the Nanpanjiang basin in southern China. They have the particularity of being extremely well preserved, which allowed for an accurate study of the biodiversity and the climate history of the Permian and the Triassic. “We made several cross-sections of hundreds of metres of basin sediments and we determined the exact positions of ash beds contained in these marine sediments,” explained Björn Baresel, first author of the study. They then applied a precise dating technique based on natural radioactive decay of uranium, as Urs Schaltegger added: “In the sedimentary cross-sections, we found layers of volcanic ash containing the mineral zircon which incorporates uranium. It has the specificity of decaying into lead over time at a well-known speed. This is why, by measuring the concentrations of uranium and lead, it was possible for us to date a sediment layer to an accuracy of 35,000 years, which is already fairly precise for periods over 250 million years.”
Ice is responsible for mass extinction

By dating the various sediment layers, researchers realised that the mass extinction of the Permian-Triassic boundary is represented by a gap in sedimentation, which corresponds to a period when the sea-water level decreased. The only explanation to this phenomenon is that there was ice, which stored water, and that this ice age which lasted 80,000 years was sufficient to eliminate much of marine life. Scientists from the UNIGE explain the global temperature drop by a stratospheric injection of large amounts of sulphur dioxide reducing the intensity of solar radiation reaching the surface of the earth. “We therefore have proof that the species disappeared during an ice age caused by the activity of the first volcanism in the Siberian Traps,” added Urs Schaltegger. This ice age was followed by the formation of limestone deposits through bacteria, marking the return of life on Earth at more moderate temperatures. The period of intense climate warming, related to the emplacement of large amounts of basalt of the Siberian Traps and which we previously thought was responsible for the extinction of marine species, in fact happened 500,000 years after the Permian-Triassic boundary.

This study therefore shows that climate warming is not the only explanation of global ecological disasters in the past on Earth: it is important to continue analysing ancient marine sediments to gain a deeper understanding of the earth’s climate system.

We now have more living species than ever before. The number of “garbage” species is very high and a new “mass extinction” (the sixth) is needed to clear out the rubbish. A Herculean task and hopefully humans will not be one of the “garbage” species. When it comes it is more likely to be due to a global cooling than a global warming.

There are thought to have been 5 great “mass extinctions” in the past. A “mass extinction” removes around 30 – 50% of extent species and can be seen as a self-correcting method for getting rid of the detritus remaining from failed evolution.

But I would argue instead that mass extinctions are necessary and unavoidable. They are necessitated by the ineffectiveness of the process of evolution itself. They provide the self-correction necessary to cope with the mass of “rubbish” species created by the hit-and-miss process of evolution. The external shock is only incidental and acts as the trigger for the extinction of the highly-stressed “rubbish” species. None of the historical mass extinctions ever posed any threat to the continuation of life. Instead they have served to muck out the dung from the evolutionary stables.

The fossil record shows that biodiversity in the world has been increasing dramatically for 200 million years and is likely to continue. The two mass extinctions in that period (at 201 million and 66 million years ago) slowed the trend only temporarily. Genera are the next taxonomic level up from species and are easier to detect in fossils. The Phanerozoic is the 540-million-year period in which animal life has proliferated. Chart created by and courtesy of University of Chicago paleontologists J. John Sepkoski, Jr. and David M. Raup.

The fossil record shows that biodiversity in the world has been increasing dramatically for 200 million years and is likely to continue. The two mass extinctions in that period (at 201 million and 66 million years ago) slowed the trend only temporarily. Genera are the next taxonomic level up from species and are easier to detect in fossils. The Phanerozoic is the 540-million-year period in which animal life has proliferated. Chart created by and courtesy of University of Chicago paleontologists J. John Sepkoski, Jr. and David M. Raup.

The clue lies here:

Wikipedia: Although there are 10–14 million species of life currently on the Earth, more than 99 percent of all species that ever lived on the planet are estimated to be extinct.

Evolution fails in over 99% of its attempts to create species that can survive. The 1%  of species that do and have survived may seem to be perfectly tailored for the prevailing conditions but that is putting the cart before the horse. Evolution has no direction and does not seek excellence. It only throws up a plethora of species where just 1% of those species happen to suit the prevailing conditions. One round peg out of a 100 different shapes may happen to fit a round hole but the round peg itself was not designed to fit – it happened to be the only one of many which did. For every species which is just good enough to survive, evolution gives another 99 which are not. As a process it is a remarkably ineffective one. Humans are not the result of “intelligent design”. They are just the 1% of all the species created by evolution which happened to fit the round hole of the prevailing environment.


 

Dinosaurs died a cold, dark and miserable death

February 3, 2017

If dinosaurs had not died out, there would not have been the room in the ecosystem for the evolution of the primates (and many other species and perhaps including most birds). Dinosaurs roamed the earth from about 200+ million years ago until about 65 mya. Some mammals did overlap with the dinosaurs but mammal evolution really took off only after the dinosaurs mad way for them  The earliest history of primate-like mammals can be traced back to about 65 mya. So, for humans, the extinction of the dinosaurs was existential.

A simulation study from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK who, it should be noted, are most famous for exaggerations of sea-rise in their climate models) concludes that it was an asteroid impact and not a volcanic eruption that caused the dinosaur extinction. (I always take “science” from Potsdam with a large pinch of salt since they often could be called the Potsdam Institute for Global Warming Worship).

Brugger, J., Feulner, G., Petri, S. (2017): Baby, it’s cold outside: Climate model simulations of the effects of the asteroid impact at the end of the Cretaceous. Geophysical Research Letters [DOI:10.1002/2016GL072241]

Abstract

Sixty-six million years ago, the end-Cretaceous mass extinction ended the reign of the dinosaurs. Flood basalt eruptions and an asteroid impact are widely discussed causes, yet their contributions remain debated. Modeling the environmental changes after the Chicxulub impact can shed light on this question. Existing studies, however, focused on the effect of dust or used one-dimensional, noncoupled atmosphere models. Here we explore the longer-lasting cooling due to sulfate aerosols using a coupled climate model. Depending on aerosol stratospheric residence time, global annual mean surface air temperature decreased by at least 26°C, with 3 to 16 years subfreezing temperatures and a recovery time larger than 30 years. The surface cooling triggered vigorous ocean mixing which could have resulted in a plankton bloom due to upwelling of nutrients. These dramatic environmental changes suggest a pivotal role of the impact in the end-Cretaceous extinction.

Potsdam has put out a press release:

How the darkness and the cold killed the dinosaurs

66 million years ago, the sudden extinction of the dinosaurs started the ascent of the mammals, ultimately resulting in humankind’s reign on Earth. Climate scientists now reconstructed how tiny droplets of sulfuric acid formed high up in the air after the well-known impact of a large asteroid and blocking the sunlight for several years, had a profound influence on life on Earth. Plants died, and death spread through the food web. Previous theories focused on the shorter-lived dust ejected by the impact. The new computer simulations show that the droplets resulted in long-lasting cooling, a likely contributor to the death of land-living dinosaurs. An additional kill mechanism might have been a vigorous mixing of the oceans, caused by the surface cooling, severely disturbing marine ecosystems.

“The big chill following the impact of the asteroid that formed the Chicxulub crater in Mexico is a turning point in Earth history,” says Julia Brugger from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), lead author of the study to be published today in the Geophysical Research Letters. “We can now contribute new insights for understanding the much debated ultimate cause for the demise of the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous era.” To investigate the phenomenon, the scientists for the first time used a specific kind of computer simulation normally applied in different contexts, a climate model coupling atmosphere, ocean and sea ice. They build on research showing that sulfur- bearing gases that evaporated from the violent asteroid impact on our planet’s surface were the main factor for blocking the sunlight and cooling down Earth.

In the tropics, annual mean temperature fell from 27 to 5 degrees Celsius

“It became cold, I mean, really cold,” says Brugger. Global annual mean surface air temperature dropped by at least 26 degrees Celsius. The dinosaurs were used to living in a lush climate. After the asteroid’s impact, the annual average temperature was below freezing point for about 3 years. Evidently, the ice caps expanded. Even in the tropics, annual mean temperatures went from 27 degrees to mere 5 degrees. “The long-term cooling caused by the sulfate aerosols was much more important for the mass extinction than the dust that stays in the atmosphere for only a relatively short time. It was also more important than local events like the extreme heat close to the impact, wildfires or tsunamis,” says co-author Georg Feulner who leads the research team at PIK. It took the climate about 30 years to recover, the scientists found.

In addition to this, ocean circulation became disturbed. Surface waters cooled down, thereby becoming denser and hence heavier. While these cooler water masses sank into the depths, warmer water from deeper ocean layers rose to the surface, carrying nutrients that likely led to massive blooms of algae, the scientists argue. It is conceivable that these algal blooms produced toxic substances, further affecting life at the coasts. Yet in any case, marine ecosystems were severely shaken up, and this likely contributed to the extinction of species in the oceans, like the ammonites.

“It illustrates how important the climate is for all lifeforms on our planet”

The dinosaurs, until then the masters of the Earth, made space for the rise of the mammals, and eventually humankind. The study of Earth’s past also shows that efforts to study future threats by asteroids have more than just academic interest. “It is fascinating to see how evolution is partly driven by an accident like an asteroid’s impact – mass extinctions show that life on Earth is vulnerable,” says Feulner. “It also illustrates how important the climate is for all lifeforms on our planet. Ironically today, the most immediate threat is not from natural cooling but from human-made global warming.”

Of course the last few lines of the press release are added for political correctness.

One hopes that the simulations used here are not as bad as those used for sea-rise modelling (where they tend to modify and use models so as to give their desired, pre-determined results).


 

Control of fire was more recent than 1.2 million years ago (but it was still the start of the anthropocene)

December 16, 2016

A new paper analysing dental plaque from a hominin molar suggests that this group did not use fire for cooking, but had a balanced diet of raw meat and plants. The molar is one of the earliest hominin fragments found in Europe and is thought to be 1.2 million years old. Of course they may have had some rudimentary control of fire which did not extend, till then, to cooking.

Hardy, K., Radini, A., Buckley, S. et al. Sci Nat (2017) 104: 2. doi:10.1007/s00114-016-1420-x, Diet and environment 1.2 million years ago revealed through analysis of dental calculus from Europe’s oldest hominin at Sima del Elefante, Spain

Abstract: Sima del Elefante, Atapuerca, Spain contains one of the earliest hominin fragments yet known in Europe, dating to 1.2 Ma. Dental calculus from a hominin molar was removed, degraded and analysed to recover entrapped remains. Evidence for plant use at this time is very limited and this study has revealed the earliest direct evidence for foods consumed in the genus Homo. This comprises starchy carbohydrates from two plants, including a species of grass from the Triticeae or Bromideae tribe, meat and plant fibres. All food was eaten raw, and there is no evidence for processing of the starch granules which are intact and undamaged. Additional biographical detail includes fragments of non-edible wood found adjacent to an interproximal groove suggesting oral hygiene activities, while plant fibres may be linked to raw material processing. Environmental evidence comprises spores, insect fragments and conifer pollen grains which are consistent with a forested environment.

The control of fire is thought to have been achieved between 1.5 million and 400,000 years ago and coinciding with the evolution of homo habilis to homo erectus. This research suggests that , at least in Europe, cooking had not been established by 1.2 million years ago. But whether the particular individual whose molar has been studies was a homo erectus or an evolving homo habilis is unknown.

homo-timeline

from Pinterest

The intriguing question, of course, is whether human evolution led to control of fire or whether the control of fire led to the evolution of homo sapiens from homo erectus. The archaeological evidence is that control of fire was certainly established by about 800,000 years ago and that hearths (specifically for cooking) were known some 400,000 years ago. This research is consistent with the eating of cooked meat not having begun by 1.2 million years ago. Probably this was not widespread till about 400,000 years ago.

I find it most plausible that the control of fire was the single critical development/advance which made the evolution to homo sapiens possible and which made human social and technological development inevitable. It also seems more than just plausible that the real increase in brain size was connected to cooking and the increase of energy available to the human physique by a diet based on cooking meat. It was the control of fire which was the true start of the anthropocene:

The advent and control of fire led – eventually but inevitably –  to the Stone Age transforming into the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. And in due course it has given the Machine Age, the Electrical Age, the Plastics Age and the current Semiconductors Age. All these “Ages” are surely part of the Anthropocene. There is a case to be made for the advent of stone tools defining Man but I think there is a much stronger case to be made for the advent and control of fire being what defines and distinguishes “Man” from all other animals.

Once fire was harnessed, the dominance of Homo Sapiens not just over other species but also over the environment became inevitable. Fire saw humans through the Ice Ages. The Stone Age plus fire gave the Bronze Age. The Bronze Age + fire led to the Iron Age. It was fire in its various avatars (hearths to ovens to smelters, or energy to steam to electricity) which helped transform one Age to the next.

The one single capability which initiated the divergence of humans from all other animals and which has resulted in the inevitable development and domination of modern humans is the control of fire. And that was around 400,000 years ago. The Age of Man began when Homo Erectus learned to produce fire at will and to contain fire in a hearth. I would even speculate that without fire Homo Erectus would not have survived to evolve into Homo Sapiens. Without fire Homo Sapiens would not have thrived through the ice ages or left the tropics to colonise more northern climes.


 

Homo inferieur

June 24, 2016

Homo sapiens include Homo denisova,  Homo neanderthalensis, another unknown race now extinct and Anatomically Modern Humans (Homo sapiens sapiens).

Future evolution will probably show up as a Homo superieur in about 10,000 generations. Along the way we will also see a degeneration of some to be Homo inferieur.

High on my list of of those making up Homo inferieur will be the participants of some of the “reality TV shows” which make me cringe.

This picture is from the Daily Mail.

Humans rutting in a zoo for the viewing entertainment of others.

All it needs is a hushed David Attenborough commenting on the behaviour of these degenerate samples of Homo inferieur.

Homo inferieur


 

Raging biodiversity – “One trillion species on earth”

May 3, 2016

A new paper now estimates that there could be up to one trillion species on earth.

Kenneth J. Loceya, and Jay T. Lennona. Scaling laws predict global microbial diversity. PNAS, 2016 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1521291113

It seems logical to me that for any environment there has to be an optimum (perhaps many possible such) number of species for the sustainability of those species. Biodiversity is not always good and the current “wisdom” that increasing biodiversity is always a good thing, is not just flawed – it is plain stupid. Evolution is highly inefficient (though it has been effective) and produces far more species than are necessary for the sustainability of life. Since over 99% of all species that have ever existed are now extinct, it follows that evolution has failed every one of those extinct species; and failed each to the point of destruction. Mass extinctions are merely the way in which the detritus of failed evolution is cleaned out. Currently probably some 30% of all species need to go extinct.

I have never yet heard a satisfactory explanation of why ever-increasing biodiversity, which is so politically correct, is a good thing. “The good of the eco-system” is often quoted – but what on earth is that? Is it better to have a multitude of species or a multitude of individuals in a fewer number of species? Is it better for external forces to change an environment (long, slow geologic processes or short sharp catastrophic events) or for the species within the environment to change it? There is a mindless worship of biodiversity which is not logical.

It seems almost self-evident to me that, for any given environment there must be an optimum number of species, with particular combinations of characteristics, which allow the ecosystem or biosphere to be in a self-sustaining equilibrium (not growing or declining but self-sustaining). This optimum will vary depending upon the characteristics and interactions between the particular species existing and the available space in the prevailing environment. Then, having fewer than the optimum number of species in that environment would mean that all the complex interdependent, interactions between species that seem to be necessary for sustaining each of the participating species would not be fully developed. I say “seem” because it is not certain that all interdependencies are necessarily of benefit to individual species. “It is the entire ecosystem which benefits” I hear some say, but even that is more an assumption than a conclusion.

 

The press release from the University of Indiana

Earth could contain nearly 1 trillion species, with only one-thousandth of 1 percent now identified, according to a study from biologists at Indiana University.

The IU scientists combined microbial, plant and animal community datasets from government, academic and citizen science sources, resulting in the largest compilation of its kind. Altogether, these data represent over 5.6 million microscopic and nonmicroscopic species from 35,000 locations across all the world’s oceans and continents, except Antarctica. ……

….. Microbial species are all forms of life too small to be seen with the naked eye, including all single-celled organisms, such as bacteria and archaea, as well as certain fungi. Many earlier attempts to estimate the number of species on Earth simply ignored microorganisms or were informed by older datasets that were based on biased techniques or questionable extrapolations, Lennon said. ……

……. The study’s results also suggest that actually identifying every microbial species on Earth is an almost unimaginably huge challenge. To put the task in perspective, the Earth Microbiome Project — a global multidisciplinary project to identify microscope organisms — has so far cataloged less than 10 million species.

“Of those cataloged species, only about 10,000 have ever been grown in a lab, and fewer than 100,000 have classified sequences,” Lennon said. “Our results show that this leaves 100,000 times more microorganisms awaiting discovery — and 100 million to be fully explored. Microbial biodiversity, it appears, is greater than ever imagined.”

Abstract

Scaling laws underpin unifying theories of biodiversity and are among the most predictively powerful relationships in biology. However, scaling laws developed for plants and animals often go untested or fail to hold for microorganisms. As a result, it is unclear whether scaling laws of biodiversity will span evolutionarily distant domains of life that encompass all modes of metabolism and scales of abundance. Using a global-scale compilation of ∼35,000 sites and ∼5.6⋅106 species, including the largest ever inventory of high-throughput molecular data and one of the largest compilations of plant and animal community data, we show similar rates of scaling in commonness and rarity across microorganisms and macroscopic plants and animals. We document a universal dominance scaling law that holds across 30 orders of magnitude, an unprecedented expanse that predicts the abundance of dominant ocean bacteria. In combining this scaling law with the lognormal model of biodiversity, we predict that Earth is home to upward of 1 trillion (1012) microbial species. Microbial biodiversity seems greater than ever anticipated yet predictable from the smallest to the largest microbiome.


Related:

ktwop on biodiversity

The fossil record shows that biodiversity in the world has been increasing dramatically for 200 million years and is likely to continue. The two mass extinctions in that period (at 201 million and 66 million years ago) slowed the trend only temporarily. Genera are the next taxonomic level up from species and are easier to detect in fossils. The Phanerozoic is the 540-million-year period in which animal life has proliferated. Chart created by and courtesy of University of Chicago paleontologists J. John Sepkoski, Jr. and David M. Raup.

The fossil record shows that biodiversity in the world has been increasing dramatically for 200 million years and is likely to continue. The two mass extinctions in that period (at 201 million and 66 million years ago) slowed the trend only temporarily. Genera are the next taxonomic level up from species and are easier to detect in fossils. The Phanerozoic is the 540-million-year period in which animal life has proliferated. Chart created by and courtesy of University of Chicago paleontologists J. John Sepkoski, Jr. and David M. Raup.


 

Natural selection is obsolete and the compassionate society needs non-coercive eugenics

March 20, 2016

Natural selection is about being “good enough” and never about excellence. It has been sufficient to the purpose to cope with the slow change of prevailing environment. It has been effective but remarkably inefficient. But now that homo sapiens has developed to the point of influencing – even if not yet controlling – the prevailing environment, the trial and error process of “natural selection” can no longer cope with the pace of change. Compassionate societies take care of their physically unfit and natural selection is effectively bypassed.

Natural selection is about “good enough”, but artificial selection could be about excellence

Natural selection has no direction. In fact it is unintended selection. It just allows for the survival and the reproduction of the “just good enough” individuals (not of the best individuals). “Evolution” is then just the resulting changes in species, where some individuals have had the genetic variation (errors or abnormalities) to be able to survive in a changed environment (habitat and/or competing species). Paradoxically, species which display a wide genetic variation in individuals (large errors), have a greater chance of surviving change. Of course, many abnormal individuals fail to survive, which is the price paid for the survival of the species. In that sense, “natural selection” sacrifices individuals for the sake of the species. The unplanned, unintended “selection” occurs primarily by the deselection of the unfit individuals. You could say it was unethical, since the end (species survival), justifies the means (deselection of unfit individuals). There is no compassion for deselected individuals in natural selection.

Excellence of a particular attribute is never selected for. Survivors are those just good enough, to live long enough, to reproduce. Evolution by this “natural selection” clearly works, but it is not intentional, is not very efficient and can only cope with slow, small changes to the environment. Rapid or large changes cannot be matched by the available genetic variation. When the genetic variation (errors) among individuals does not throw up some which can survive some external change, species go extinct. It is the selection not by a pro-active choice but by whatever is left surviving after a multitude of trials of the errors.

We are getting to the point where we are beginning to be able to discern the genetic components which, partially or wholly, determine health, disease, intelligence and behaviour of the individual. We no longer allow the sick and unintelligent to be deselected. The “compassionate society” has effectively short-circuited the natural selection process which depended on the physically “unfit” dying off. However we take no similar actions about those who are mentally or behaviourally unfit. We have started changing the environment and we have cancelled the death of the physically unfit. But we still allow the mentally or behaviourally unfit to survive and reproduce.

It is time then to also take charge of genetic selection.

We see nothing wrong in genetic intervention in preventing debilitating disease. We even allow capital punishment (abortion) where the genetic fault in a foetus is considered very large. We practice artificial selection – of a sort – with IVF and surrogate motherhood. “Genetic engineering”, and “artificial selection” are nothing but eugenics where no coercion is involved. The Nazi search for “racial purity” involved massive coercion and tried to achieve the goal of a particular physical appearance and external attributes which defined their “master race”.

But without coercion, eugenics is unexceptionable as a method to seek genetic excellence.

Eugenics:The Problem Is Coercion

Razib Khan in The Unz Review

…… the issue with nics is simple: the problem is coercion, and the rest is commentary. I understand that the public is wary and skeptical of CRISPR technology and preimplanation genetic diagnosis. The problem is that the public is also suspicious of food which has DNA in it. Genes are not magic, but that is hard to convince the person on the street. Whereof one does not know, thereof one must be suspicious.

I believe for there to be a clear discussion, one needs to take coercion off the table, and abolish its specter by stating that it just isn’t an option. Then we can have a real dialogue that gets beyond the superficiality induced by the shadow of genocide. For example, consider sentences such as the following from the op-ed above “editing genes for frivolous purposes such as increasing intelligence.” There are many technical reasons that it may not be possible to increase intelligence in the near future through genetic engineering. But would increasing one’s intelligence be frivolous? I don’t think so. Whether you agree with this project or not, it is a serious matter, and gets to the heart of what we value as human beings (or at least some of us). But the specter of genocide casts a pall on exploring these nuanced questions, and that is because of the past record of coercion in eugenics.

Natural selection together with the compassionate society results in an increase in the proportion of “unfit” individuals (physical, mental or behavioural) in the population. But we take no measures to compensate for this by increasing the genetic excellence of succeeding generations.

Natural selection is just not good enough. It can no longer keep up with the pace of change and it is not compatible with a compassionate society. Non-coercive eugenics seeking excellence, not just to compensate for the increasing number of the unfit, but mainly to improve the human condition, is necessary.


 

Related:

Breeding for intelligence?

Is human intelligence declining?


 

Humans have neutralised natural selection and some alternative is needed

December 25, 2015

I was reading the Reuters report about the fatwas issued by ISIS which apparently justify the harvesting of organs of apostates and infidels – even from living individuals – for the sake of transplantation into “good muslims”. There has to be a genetic component to “barbarism”. Then I saw the report of the Pope’s speech at his midnight mass yesterday attacking consumerism and all “bad things”. That got me to thinking that all the pretty speeches made by politicians and Popes, exhorting “good behaviour”, are all meaningless if actions to ensure and sustain “good behaviour” are not also taken. If humans mean that “good behaviour” is something to aspire to and work for, then we must also take the measures available to us which can improve, whatever we may define as “good behaviour”, from one generation to the next. If behaviour is entirely due to nurture then it just requires proper teaching (though the line between teaching and brainwashing is quite thin). But it is not just nurture, of course. There is little doubt, in my mind that there is a significant genetic component to the behaviour that is expressed by an individual.

Certainly there is no doubt that genetics defines the envelope of behaviours that is open to any individual. Normally the envelope of enabled behaviour is so wide that it allows both “good” and “bad” behaviour. Thereafter it may well be nurture and the peculiarities of each individual which determines which particular behaviour will actually be expressed. But the artificial breeding of pets and livestock shows that key behavioural (as opposed to purely physical) characteristics (aggression, curiosity, propensity to cooperate, playfulness, sensitivity, …) can be selected for. Even “intelligence” has been selected for among dogs with some measure of success. It follows that in addition to physical characteristics, the envelope of possible behaviours that can be expressed by an individual can also be altered by genetics. It is highly likely then, that modifying genetics and shifting the envelope will allow certain behaviours to be completely eliminated from the realm of the possible.

Of course it is primarily natural selection which has produced the humans of today and it is this evolution which gives the cognitive behaviour which favours the “compassionate society”. But in this compassionate society, all those who would otherwise have been deselected by natural selection are now protected. The advances of medical science allied with the development of our ethical standards of behaviour (concepts of “human rights”), mean that the physically and mentally disadvantaged are protected and enabled to survive and reproduce. But one consequence is that even those exhibiting “bad behaviour” are also protected and survive to reproduce. The “welfare society” not only protects the weak and disadvantaged, it also ensures that their genetic weaknesses – assuming that they exist – are carried forward into succeeding generations. The “compassionate society” sees to it that even murderous psychopaths (whose behaviour may well be largely due to genetic “faults”), are imprisoned for relatively short times and then permitted (even encouraged) to pass on their faulty genes to succeeding generations.

Something is not right here. To be a compassionate society and protect the weak and disabled is wholly admirable, I think. But when the protection of the weak and disabled extends to the preferential propagation of the weakness or the disability, then the “compassion” also becomes counter-productive and eventually unsustainable. From the perspective of the future survival of the human race, the unnecessary perpetuation of weaknesses and disabilities becomes stupid and suicidal. It may be that the same genes which give some perceived weakness also give some critical survival attribute, in which case there is a trade-off to be made and a call to be taken.

I like the analogy of genetic propagation being seen as a chemical or nuclear reaction. Run-away reactions are avoided if moderation is available. I am coming to the view that some method of moderation of propagation is actually a necessity. Now that natural selection has been neutralised by human compassion and can no longer provide a moderating influence on genetic propagation, then some other form of genetic moderation is needed to avoid “run-away” genetic explosions. That then requires some form of “artificial” selection as the moderator. We may not yet know the specifics and the extent of the genetic components of intelligence or behaviour, but it is a simple conclusion that without moderation, we may well be ensuring the dumbing-down of the human race or ensuring the propagation and expansion of “bad behaviour”. It may not be causal, but there is a clear correlation showing higher fertility rates with lower “intelligence”. It is an arithmetic certainty that, if there is a causal relationship between intelligence and lower birth rates, then the intelligence of humans will decline.

There is nothing fundamentally incompatible between being a compassionate society which protects the weak and the disabled of the current generation, while still ensuring that genetic weaknesses are not carried forward into succeeding generations. In fact, it could even be considered unethical to knowingly allow such weaknesses to be carried forward, especially if we had the knowledge and the means to prevent it. But that, of course, would be considered eugenics.


%d bloggers like this: