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Survival of the ... Runts?

on July 21, 2007
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MSNBC: “Why does the survival of the fittest allow runts?

We’ve all heard it before on TV or in biology textbooks: evolution removes those members of a species that are less fit. This, after all, has been one of the assumptions about how evolution prunes the gene pool and somehow blindly selects those attributes that are better adapted to the environment. (As we’ve said before, however, survival of the fittest, natural selection, is certainly not the same thing as slime-to-squid evolution and can work only upon pre-existing information.) In fact, the belief that “survival of the fittest” is such an irresistible force has led some researchers to help it along from time to time.

What does one do, however, with the recurrence of “less-than-ideal” members of the species? In the case of red deer populations on the Isle of Rum, Scotland, one group of researchers wanted to understand why natural selection had failed to remove the “runts.” After studying 34 years worth of data over eight generations of deer, the group found that:

Instead of the genes for weaker deer being removed, the deer are simply reshuffling the existing information.

[...] a genetic tug-of-war related to sex may be responsible. When red deer search for mates, each sex instinctively looks for different qualities. Males seek out females that will produce the biggest, toughest sons, and females seek males that carry a genetic blueprint for the best offspring-creating daughters.

Instead of the genes for weaker deer being removed, the deer are simply reshuffling the existing information.

Such an evolutionary paradox creates weak members of each sex every generation alongside stronger members, and the “bad” genes don’t disappear because they’re inextricably tossed back and forth between the sexes, like a hot potato.

The researchers, of course, see this lack of change as a confirmation of evolution. But it is obvious that this “evolutionary paradox” is hardly what one would expect for a process that is supposedly, as the article says, “running towards an optimal solution, looking for the best puzzle pieces to play with.” The lack of change—no overall increase in genetic information—cannot also be proof for change. If anything, this lack of change points to the limits of mere natural selection (with no guidance mechanism). Hopefully these secular scientists will see how limited it truly is.


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