Thursday, May 15, 2008


Yes, it's a Nine Inch Nails song.

But I came across a really fun link called "Who Wants to Live a Million Years" on the Science Channel website. It's really fun, and additive paying with the different trait combinations and seeing how the species you've created does.

I've always though natural selection was neat because it's not like an organism "decides" to grow a longer neck or something. A mutation just happens, and there it is. Of course you can converse about whether a Higher Power makes the change or if it's completely un-designed - but either way I think it's neat in any case that the organism has really no part in it.
I remember my college ecology class talking about natural selection and it was really interesting that some folks had some pretty big misconceptions about natural selection. My favorites:

1) an animal stretches its neck out reaching for berries up high, its neck gradually gets longer, and that trait is passed on to its offspring.
The error here is that the animals genes have remained the same. While its neck has physically changed, it was due to outside stimulus that did not effects its genes. It's ability to pass on short necks (what it was born with) was not changed on a genetic level, so if the animal was born with a short neck, its offspring will have a short neck. UNLESS of course, the physical change was brought on by a gene altering act (a bunch of glowing green chemical waste was dumped on the animal, changing its genetic makeup, giving it a longer neck! Thank you Hollywood!) This also goes to the premise that individuals adapt, but only species evolve.

2) an animal starts to look like a flower, in order to be camoflauged.
This is a real example from class. We were talking about a species of praying mantis that looks exactly like a part of an orchid. The mantis hangs out in aforementioned orchid where it snatches bugs who try to drink/gather pollen. The question was how did the mantis know to look like an orchid? Simply, it didn't. A mantis, thanks to genetic mutation, was born accidentally looking a little like an orchid (maybe it was white, or had fanned out forelegs or something) and because other insects couldn't see it as well, it went on to make more offspring.

I think it's amazing. Not everything is calculated, thought out and logical. Sometimes there are just brilliant accidents. Without realizing it, or having a say in it at all, an entire population can start down a divergent genetic road. It makes me think, from an individual's stand point, what kind of survival techniques we adopt by accident without really realizing it.

No comments: