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Phenotypic Plasticity

Updated on June 26, 2016
My pet grasshopper: Dennis Hopper
My pet grasshopper: Dennis Hopper | Source

When the human eco-pyramid overturns, ravenous hordes will devour everything in sight, including each other.

There are grasshoppers, and there are locusts. The calm, quiet little grasshopper fellow eats by himself, trying not to bother anyone.

The locust gathers into large swarms, devouring everything in its path.

BUT, these are the same critter!

How does the grasshopper, morph into the locust in a few days, sometimes in a few hours?

When grasshopper feels too crowded his seratonin levels spike causing gene expression to change rapidly, and wala! Locust.

His little legs and wings shrink. His color changes, his brain grows, and if he now moves too slow, his brothers coming up from behind him will eat him.

While Calhoune's mice become pretty, and man becomes a couch potato, just take away all his food and electricity, and wala! Cannibals!

Richard Dawkin's Selfish Gene will give way to the selfish stomach, and then, if there is enough time, perhaps, to developmental plasticity.

Gene expression will dominate. The fastest runner will overtake the couch potato.

Does phenotypic plasticity threaten to overthrow Richard Dawkin's "selfish gene" model?

Hamilton and Williams, using math to develop their ideas (like Kin Selection), and Mendel's experimental Peas, are reminiscent of Einstein and Bhor using math to develop Relativity and Quantum Magic, and Hawking's dimpled pea. The dazzling equations and experiments may have blinded the likes of Richard Dawkins and other evolutionary biologists from seeing an even more powerful agent of Mother Nature.

Of course, gene's are behind evolutionary change, but gene-centrism is just one way to accomplish Mother Nature's feat.

Mutation changing a gene, and therefore the phenotype, resulting in a changed organism, is not really being challenged. Instead, in the immediate sense, phenotypic plasticity may deserve to ride shotgun along side Mother Nature, with the Selfish Gene relegated to the back seat. Keep in mind, phenotypic plasticity is not an alternative to natural selection, as selection "acts upon" phenotypic plasticity. In other words, phenoptypic plasticity is developmental not evolutionary.

Genetic assimilation, and developmental plasticity are not newer terms. The ideas have been around since the 1940's. Whereas, with the gene-centric view, the genotype creates the phenotype, with genetic assimilation, it’s a phenotype making room for a new genotype.

The MonkE adapts to its changing environment with altered gene expression and its new phenotype. It's physiology and behavior change correspondingly. A new gene arises and "locks in" the new phenotype, then the gene spreads through the local population.

Instead of a single gene effecting change, the genes communicate with each other; the entire genome communicates with itself, other genomes and the environment.

This is a conversation, not listened to very closely by most of our current crop of biologists, but one going on just the same, and being heard by the likes of West-Eberhard, Gene Robinson, Massimo Pigliucci and Courtney Murren.


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