Evolution: “Red in Tooth and Claw”? or Cooperative?

Is evolution a “red in tooth and claw” war of survival of the fittest? Or is it cooperative?

Is evolution slow and accidental? Or rapid and strategic?

Enjoy this video about real-time Symbiosis by John Perry of Stated Clearly.

12 Responses

  1. Thanks for posting that. One thing interesting about the research that was not mentioned in the animation is about the viroids discovered. They are free living genes made of RNA and they do not “know” the genetic code. They are a class of RNAs called ribozymes. Instead of coding for a protein enzyme like most modern genes do, they themselves act as enzymes. They represent what all life-forms may have been like before the genetic code evolved.

    • William says:

      When has any code ever written itself? The best we can hope for in the future is robot coders with code written by human writing the code for other robots.

  2. Tom Godfrey says:

    This is an interesting idea. I understand that no one claims to have answers to all the questions, but as investigation continues, it should be important to think clearly, and key questions need to be answered before skeptics can be convinced that we now know “what caused life’s major evolutionary transitions.” Lab experiments demonstrating what scientists believe could have happened billions of years ago can hardly be accepted as proof that they reflect what actually did happen in the beginning of life on earth.

    One mystery I noticed was illustrated at about 5:10 in the video, where seven cells not only become a “new superorganism” but also acquire a skin of unknown composition and unexplained origin. An even more mysterious invention at this point is a way for the newly-forged organism to reproduce as a superorganism, not just as individual cells within it. I was reminded of Volvox.
    Has anyone explained how this kind of reproduction could have evolved from an earlier system based on the kind of cell division that would have been practical before the “major evolutionary transition”?

    Jon says at 6:25, “These two experiments show us how multi-celled organisms may have first evolved …” The first experiment involved protists that were eating smaller cells and suggests that this process might lead to the transition of interest in a short time even in the wild. Is this belief consistent with the true history of life on earth? The first single-celled creatures were supposed to have appeared around 3.5 billion years ago, with the first multicellular creatures appearing nearly three billion years later, right? So why did it take so long? One ought to wonder whether the experiment really shows us anything about the true history of life on earth. Similarly, the second experiment involved the evolution of multi-celled yeast colonies from single-celled precursors, also in a short time. In this case, I was also left wondering how the yeast colonies managed essential life processes, such as collecting nutrients and eliminating wastes, before the evolution of splitters 32 days later.

    In general, I am left with questions about how to overcome the initial challenges or disadvantages of existence as a colony as opposed to a free cell, and these must be considerable. If a viroid gained a survival advantage by joining with others and “working together in cooperation” (4:00), how could viroids have survived so well as mere individuals for all of history? This long after creation, whether thousands of years or billions, the simplest organisms are still thriving alongside or inside of much larger and even huge creatures, faithfully reproducing after their kind too.

    • First off, you are correct that modern simulations don’t show us exactly what happened in the past. All we can hope is to understand the selection pressures that give rise to multicelled animals. I’d like to add that understanding these processes doesn’t just help us better imagine what happened in the past, it also helps us understand cancer, which is the opposite – a superorganism breaking back down into competing cells. More on that some other time.

      The answers to most of your remaining questions are fairly related. They have to do with the evolution of cellular differentiation.

      When simple bacteria divide (I mean the simplest of the simplest kinds of bacteria) they almost always make identical copies of themselves. More complex bacteria, however, have developed mechanisms allowing them to turn certain genes on and off. E coli, for example, can turn off the gene for a lactose eating enzyme when no lactose is around to eat.

      This adaptation allows E coli to carry code for many different enzymes in its genome without having to build them all the time.

      This is a complex adaptation that apparently took billions of years to develop (early fossil microbes don’t seem to have been capable of this). Without this adaptation, multicellurality can not evolve. It was a necessary precursor.

      Volvox used the trick of turning genes on and off to evolve its multi cell-type body structure. When the first founding volvox cell reproduces, it’s offspring are not identical. They turn off certain genes allowing them to become different parts of the body. Under the right circumstances, this type of division of labor can be selected for (see the paper in the video description that the video is based on).

      If we did experiments like those shown in the video with cells that were not capable of turning genes on and off, they would not have been able to evolve complex multicellular structures (as shown in the fungus). What’s happening in those experiments is that mutations are slightly tweaking gene regulatory mechanisms that evolved millions of years prior. Most modifications aren’t helpful, but eventually, trial and error gets a hit.

      If you read the papers, you’ll find that the early multicelled clusters have major problems managing their sizes. Cells trapped in the middle die, nutrients are not well distributed. This adjusts over time through a process called kin selection.

      Suicide in the fungus “spliter cells” is a form of extreme altruism that evolves easily under the conditions of the experiment. Dawkins has a book called “The Selfish Gene” which explains the evolution of extreme altruism through kin selection.

  3. Paul says:

    Evolution is a myth. From all scientific parameters it passes from unrealistic to the relm of absolute impossibility. Those that hold to believing in evolution accept the notion that dividing by 0 is a valid argument for their conclusions.

  4. Art Carnrick says:

    Keep up the good science!

  5. Joe Baublis says:

    I’m skeptical of the video producer “stated clearly”, they’ve created an imaginary cartoon to make believe that Marshall’s theory has merit. But cartoon artists can present false images, like the amazing “Hulk” superhero. I recall watching a video produced by “stated clearly” that used animated cartoon graphics to show a land creature evolve into a whale, but no mention that the whale evolution exhibits have been shown to be – essentially – frauds. Although Perry Marshall’s cartoon may be compelling to some, I view it essentially as a carnival magician’s “puff of smoke” released before he pulls a rabbit out of a hat.
    As for the so-called “co-operation” theory, don’t forget that many parts “co-operate” in the overall function of a automobile, and they do so by design of the intelligent engineer. But there’s no known Perry Marshall theory that cars evolved from gradual accumulation of cooperating car parts. Although, I suppose, he could make a cartoon about it – like the “transformers” – and trick some people.

    • Jonathan Perry says:

      You don’t have to trust the cartoon. It lists all the research its based on in the animation and links to it in the video description. Same with the video on whales.

  6. Wess Nibarger says:

    This is the first I have seen of this website, and find it rather fascinating. As near as I can tell, this website of folks who buy into the whole Creationism, Intelligent Design, or whatever it’s being called this year paradigm, who like to post and view material that doesn’t agree with their own preconceived notions. Then they seem to all get together and tear down the offending material. Would that be accurate? Is this a kind of “support group” for people who cling to the idea that the Earth was created 6,000 years ago, in spite of all evidence to the contrary?

  7. Alex Geleris says:

    Hi John,
    I really enjoyed your video and the observations you’ve made about the progress and development that occurred in simple organisms. When you talk about cooperation it conjures up in mind planning, communication and will. What are your thoughts on underpins and drives cooperation in these organisms? Personally, I don’t think ‘a need or desire to survive’ is a plausible answer. A single cell organism isn’t aware of its existence or the threat of its extinction.

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