Werner Arber

Genetic and Cultural Impacts on the Course of Biological Evolution (Lecture + Discussion)


Abstract

According to the Neo-Darwinian theory, biological evolution is driven by the availability of genetic variants in large populations. Natural selection, together with the at any time available genetic variants, directs the evolution while geographic and reproductive isolations modulate the process. With molecular genetic and bioinformatic research strategies it has become possible to gain knowledge on molecular mechanisms that spontaneously generate at low rates genetic variants. Several specific molecular mechanisms contribute to genetic variation. Products of so-called evolution genes act thereby as variation generators and as modulators of the rates of genetic variation, in cooperation with non-genetic elements such as intrinsic properties of matter, chemical and physical mutagens and random encounter. The identified molecular mechanisms of genetic variation can be classified into three natural strategies to generate genetic variants: local changes in the sequences of nucleotides, intragenomic rearrangements of DNA segments, and the acquisition of a foreign DNA segment by horizontal gene transfer.

After a short introductory lecture into molecular Darwinism much time shall be devoted to a broad discussion. This debate can deepen insights into some specific mechanisms of spontaneous generation of genetic variants. This can then lead to reflect on possible impacts that human activities might have on the course of biological evolution. What are possible impacts of genetic engineering on the evolutionary process? What are impacts of classical plant and animal breeding methods, sometimes including the use of mutagens? What are impacts of modern agricultural practices altogether? What are impacts of disrespecting geographic isolation? How does nature react to disrespect of reproductive isolation? Which impact on habitats and on biodiversity can we expect from climate change by affecting natural selection? Any other relevant question will be welcome and can further stimulate the open discussion.


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