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No. 116: Mar-Apr 1998

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Eco-Darwinism: Diffuse Individuals

Epigenetic phenomena -- those phenomena beyond the pale of DNA -- are seen in "diffuse individuals" such as fungi, where it is difficult to separate individual units of life. To illustrate, some fungi may be 1,000 years old and extend for 35 acres (15 hectares) and yet possess a single, still unmodified genome. In his review of A. Rayner's new book Degrees of Freedom: Living in Dynamic Boundaries, T. Wakeford writes:

"So, like the World Wide Web, a fungal network is decentralized. There is no central region capable of exerting control over the rest of the network. Rayner's own work suggests that the growth patterns of fungal filaments are forged as much by the environment that they encounter as by their genes. He believes that epigenetics, the process whereby opportunities in an organism's surroundings dictate which genes are expressed, is the norm in microorganisms. Genetic determinism is thus turned on its head."

(Wakeford, Tom; "We Are the Fungus," New Scientist, p. 49, May 10, 1997.)

Comment. Looking at the above situation from an information viewpoint, as one must these days, it seems that the environment can somehow "interpret" genes as the situation demands. In other words, genes are not "single-message" information carriers, but can be "read" in different ways according to the environment encountered by their "carriers"; that is, the organisms that bear them. Is this how "adaptive evolution" works?

If it is, the genome must contain a multitude of "contingency plans" because the environment by itself cannot add a new suite of capabilities to the genome; it can only trigger what is already there! But maybe there is something we are missing in all this.

From Science Frontiers #116, MAR-APR 1998. 1998-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987