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No. 23: Sep-Oct 1982

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Short-circuiting heredity

Genes, those carriers of heredity, have turned out to be great gadabouts. Not only do they jump about within a species, but also between species, especially the simple prokaryotic organisms, such as bacteria. It is now well accepted that genes flow between different species of bacteria in physical contact, thus stirring the evolutionary pot. Until recently, scientists believed that the higher organisms, the eukaryotic species, including you and me, did not indulge in such "horizontal" traffic between species. But a few cases have now been found, one involving humans and a microorganism associated with tumors. And the search is just beginning, as biologists look for something they never thought of looking for before.

(Lewin, Roger; "Can Genes Jump between Eukaryotic Species?" Science, 217:42, 1982.)

Comment. This apparent short-circuiting of classical heredity channels supports the radical notion that evolutionary blueprints may be transmitted between divergent species. In the long view, may-be we should not malign viruses, germs, and biting insects!

From Science Frontiers #23, SEP-OCT 1982. 1982-2000 William R. Corliss