History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

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Stuart Newman’s “High Tea”

March 31st, 2008 · No Comments

Suzan Mazur: Stuart Newman’s “High Tea”

Suzan Mazur While some scientists prefer shaping their opinions about evolution based on audience reaction while on book tour – others are actually busy looking for answers in the lab. Stuart Newman, Professor of Cell Biology and Anatomy at New York Medical College, is the real deal.
Newman will be presenting his full theory about “dynamic patterning modules” (DPMs) and “form” in evolution at a symposium in Altenberg, Austria this July at Konrad Lorenz Institute. The conference – first highlighted on this page “Scoop: Altenberg! The Woodstock of Evolution?” – is designed to discuss a remix of the existing theory of evolution.

Charles Darwin’s theory was last updated 70 years ago. “Extended Evolutionary Synthesis” is the working title of the new one.

In a phone interview, Stuart Newman told me that some of his work on the theory of form — which the current evolutionary formula lacks — was done in collaboration with Gerd Muller, a theoretical biologist at the University of Vienna. Muller is also one of the organizers of the Altenberg symposium.

Newman has co-authored the textbook Biological Physics of the Developing Embryo (Cambridge Univ. Press) with Gabor Forgacs, a biological physicist at the University of Missouri, and co-edited the volume Origination of Organismal Form (MIT Press) with Gerd Muller, also contributing a few chapters to it. [See also… “Scoop: Theory of Form to Evolution Center Stage”]

On Tuesday, March 25, Newman spoke at the University of Notre Dame’s Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Biocomplexity Newman states that “in contrast to the Neo-Darwinian principle . . phenotypic disparity early in evolution occurred in advance of, rather than closely tracked, genotypic change.”

Here’s the abstract from Newman’s Notre Dame “high tea”
University of Notre Dame/Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Biocomplexity/Center News:

“The shapes and forms of multicellular organisms arise by generation of new cell states and types and changes in the numbers and rearrangements of the various kinds of cells. This talk will consider the role played by a core set of “dynamic patterning modules” (DPMs) in the origination, development and evolution of complex organisms. DPMs consist of the gene products of what is known as the “developmental-genetic toolkit,” but considered in subsets, as dynamical networks embodying physical processes characteristic of chemically and mechanically excitable meso- to macroscopic systems like cell aggregates: cohesion, viscoelasticity, diffusion, and spatio-temporal heterogeneity based on lateral inhibition, and multistable and oscillatory dynamics.
I will focus on the emergence of the multicellular animals (metazoa), and show how the toolkit gene products and pathways that pre-existed this form of life acquired novel morphogenetic functions simply by virtue of the change in scale and context inherent to multicellularity. We show that DPMs, acting singly and in combination with each other, constitute a “pattern language” capable of generating all metazoan body plans and organ forms.

This concept implies that the multicellular organisms of the late Precambrian–early Cambrian were phenotypically highly plastic, fluently exploring morphospace in a fashion decoupled from both genotypic change and adaptation. The stable developmental trajectories and morphological phenotypes of modern animals, then, are considered to be products of stabilizing selection. This perspective provides a solution to the apparent “molecular homology-analogy paradox,” whereby divergent modern animal types utilize the same molecular toolkit during development by proposing, in contrast to the Neo-Darwinian principle, that phenotypic disparity early in evolution occurred in advance of, rather than closely tracked, genotypic change.”

Tags: Evolution

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