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September 22, 2012

How Did Bilaterian Evolution Happen? (Continued)




Although in Part One I used the legitimate analytical device of limiting to actual breeders my introductory examination of the historical evolution of Bilaterians, in reality throughout their long history of ~550 million years all Bilaterian gene pools were producing complete populations of animals, including those juveniles that did not survive development. And to understand how the actual breeders could have produced those unbroken chains of perfection we need to consider what mechanisms, operating on entire populations, could have favored that outcome. Before doing that I need to explain why I find certain terms favored by many biologists less than useful in this exercise.

I consider “negative selection” and “positive selection” unnecessary and misleading in considering, as I am, evolution over deep time. Yes, there were “victims” of selection (animals that died as juveniles) and “beneficiaries” of selection (the breeders) but they were all products of the same force: natural selection operating on the entire population. Juveniles afflicted with mal-formed vital organs died from those specific mal-developments and juveniles with perfectly formed organs (barring, of course, other causes of early death) passed their “genes for perfection” to offspring.

Some refer to the elimination of mal-formed juveniles as “stabilizing” selection. Again, I consider attempts to narrow the definition of selection by such gratuitous parsing not only unhelpful but profoundly misleading. If one thinks that lethal juvenile cancer was only an instrument of “stabilizing” selection because it eliminated imperfectly formed developing animals, it misses entirely the role played by selection pressure resulting from such deaths, pressure that enabled the affected gene pools to produce with great precision the most complex things known to exist in the universe. 


As I wrote in my August 27th posting I was perplexed by the reaction of two scientists to my idea; they said I was probably correct but I was wrong to insist that my idea was a radical departure from Neo-Darwinism. Here’s where I think they may have erred: they applied short-term thinking to the problem I address which is the entire history of Bilaterian evolution. They were probably thinking that cancer-caused deaths of individual juveniles was just another form of “stabilizing selection” and that I was therefore wrong to insist that without those deaths Bilaterians would not exist.

September 21, 2012

How Did Bilaterian Evolution Happen?



My objective in this two part posting is to consider the fact of Bilaterian evolution in a new way, one that, in my opinion, both reveals the inadequacy of conventional theory and identifies its replacement.  Reading both parts will consume only a few minutes, but it is my hope that they will inspire others to give the problems I describe sufficient thought.

Although it may seem counter-intuitive, those of us who resolutely view evolutionary biology as an historical science have certain advantages over those who primarily employ tools of observational science. We cannot observe past events and we certainly cannot climb into a time machine and perform experiments in the pre-Cambrian, but because we accept Bilaterian evolution as fact we can reach certain useful conclusions, conclusions that demonstrate the gross inadequacy of conventional theory.

To begin this exercise, the most useful conclusion to be drawn from the fact of evolution is that not a single ancestor of any animal that ever existed died as a juvenile. It is a tautological certainty: because only adults breed we know that all the actual breeders survived pre-adult life. From that indisputable fact we can infer, with utmost confidence, that every breeder was the beneficiary of “perfect” development. (Convinced as I am that reproduction by significantly mal-developed animals was extremely rare in the past—as rare as it is in the present—I place “perfect” in quotes simply to deflect potential nitpicking.)

The fact of evolution permits me to state—also with certitude—that these links of perfect development—perfect animals begetting perfect animals—in all the chains that produced all extant Bilateria never once broke: all extant animals are products of uninterrupted chains of perfection.


In a friendly email exchange I had not long ago with a research scientist who had read my book he asked if I had a model to support my theory. If he asked that question today I would say that he could find a suitable “model” in many biology textbooks; it’s the standard “tree of life” showing biologists’ best estimate of the various Bilaterian lineages’ relationship to one another and to the founding Ur-Bilaterians.  Included in this exercise are all chains of perfect construction of actual ancestors of all living animals in all extant species of Bilaterians: millions of lineages producing millions of trillions of breeders over ~550 million years.  


According to my theory only the Bilaterians are products of cancer selection; except in cases like flowering plants which co-evolved with certain Bilaterians, I agree with the consensus that the evolution of all other multicells is adequately explained by Neo-Darwinism’s mechanism; cancer selection played no part in their history. 

As my control, to compare with the unbroken chains of breeding Bilaterians, I nominate the jellyfish. According to this report fossil evidence shows that more than 500 million years ago jellyfish “showed the same complexity as modern jellyfish.” In other words, in their lineages the unbroken chains of perfection might be summarized as “perfect jellyfish begetting perfect jellyfish without easily discernible morphological changes” for more than 500 million years.

August 27, 2012

No, It Is Not Neo-Darwinism, and, Yes, It Is Radical

The two most perplexing responses to my idea that lethal juvenile cancer played an essential role in the origin and evolution of all Bilaterians were from two respected scientists (one a biologist, the other, not) and were very similar in their conclusion. A fair summary of both views might read like this: “You are probably correct Mister Graham, but so what?”

Of course neither scientist used those words. The non-biologist said he thought I was correct but that my idea was simply another way of expressing Neo-Darwinism. The biologist, after stating no objection to my theory, said that I was wrong to consider it “radical.”

Perhaps the best place to begin considering whether or not my idea is radical is with the following sentence from my 1984 Letter to the Journal of Theoretical Biology:

“Those [Bilaterian] germ lines that created the most complex animals endured the most genetic losses to cancer and vice versa.”

I could have said the same thing less succinctly but more emphatically:

Those Bilaterian germ lines that “benefited” the most from intense selection pressure emanating from lethal juvenile cancer produced the most complex animals. We humans, as (arguably) the most complex of all Bilaterians, owe everything to this nightmarish disease; without the death in our lineage of uncountable millions of young animals we would not exist. Neither would civilization.

Let’s compare that statement to what the Index of the Second Edition of Evolution by Douglas J. Futuyma (apparently American universities’ most popular evolutionary biology textbook) says about “cancer selection”:  absolutely nothing.  Perhaps some reference to my idea is buried in the text but I don’t have access to Professor Futuyma’s book and with its listed retail price of $121.95 it will probably remain unread by me.  It is possible, of course, that because of the limited attention it has received, my idea could have escaped the notice of an author of an evolution textbook. Yes, that would be possible for other authors but I know it is not the case for Professor Futuyma who, while editor of the journal Evolution, read my manuscript proposing the theory and decided it was not worthy of publication. (I thank him, belatedly, for providing the amusing epigraph to Chapter Fourteen of Cancer Selection.)


In summary, here’s my comparison of the two theories as they relate to cancer and Bilaterian evolution:

Graham:  Lethal juvenile cancer (cancer selection) played an absolutely essential role in the origin and evolution of Bilaterians. If cancer did not exist and had not actually killed uncountable millions of developing animals none of the Bilaterians could have existed.

Neo-Darwinism:  Cancer did not play any role in Bilaterian evolution. If cancer never existed all animals could have come into existence in forms very similar to extant animals. They might not have acquired certain anti-cancer characteristics but, although such defenses might interest medically-oriented researchers, they are of no interest whatsoever to theorists attempting to understand Bilaterian evolution.
The theories summarized in those statements cannot both be correct. One of them must be wrong and I’m convinced it’s the widely-accepted conventional theory known as Neo-Darwinism. In my next posting I will propose a mental test that supports that view.

August 21, 2012

Speeding Neutrinos, Cold Fusion ... and Cancer Triggers?

Earlier this year I submitted a little essay to The New York Times for consideration by their Op-Ed editor. When The Times didn't accept it I sent it to the Science Editor of The Guardian who also declined. Although the matter of hyper-fast neutrinos was subsequently resolved (the neutrinos were disqualified) my point remains valid: the discovery of cellular oncogenes ought to have shocked the evolutionary biology community, compelling at least a few of them to take a hard look at their theory. 

The following is that essay. It's been slightly edited, mainly to include relevant links. 

The world’s physicists' community has been rocked by the report from Italy that researchers have clocked neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light. Many physicists have expressed skepticism, but the researchers have rechecked their measurements and claim they are accurate. Time will tell if those findings are ultimately accepted. We intrigued bystanders can only wait for the ultimate outcome: either those observations were somehow flawed or basic physics theory needs tweaking, if not a major revision.

The speedy neutrinos remind me of another alleged finding that shocked physicists: the 1989 report that two American scientists (Martin Fleichmann and Stanley Pons) had produced nuclear fusion at room temperature.

As reported in The New York Times, announcement of that claim was followed by a "frenzy" of activity in "hundreds of laboratories." At Yale, graduate students labored night and day in an underground bunker placing five tons of lead bricks around sensitive detectors and tiny plastic bottles, in order to shield their experiment from stray radiation. Researchers at the University of Washington and at MIT also worked frantically to confirm the Fleichmann-Pons finding. One MIT theorist pulled an all-nighter, trying to develop a mathematical explanation for the discovery.

January 26, 2012

A Revealing Exchange of Emails

A couple of years ago I came across a comment made on line by an American university professor who teaches evolutionary biology that suggested he might be receptive to my idea linking cancer with the evolution of complex animals.

As has been my practice in recent years, I sent Professor X a complimentary copy of Cancer Selection. I don’t usually attempt further contact with recipients of my gift books, but in this case I did send him an email, a few months after I had sent him the book.

In response to something Professor X had posted on line I reminded Professor X that I had sent him a book and tried to elicit a positive response by including in the body of my email the argument I make in Chapter Five but using a slightly different approach. It is identical to the approach I later used in my 2011 talk to researchers at UCSF.

Here’s the argument I made in the email to Professor X: I claimed that there are certain “mega facts” regarding the history of Bilaterians, facts that all evolutionist would consider indisputable, facts that demand a mechanistic explanation, one not offered by accepted theory.

Fact 1. No Bilaterian animal that bred died as a juvenile. This is a tautological certainty: juveniles, by definition, cannot engage in the reproductive act, therefore all animals that engaged in reproduction lived long enough to reach adulthood.