How Genes Communicate With the Environment—The Biology of Inequality

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Abstract

In this chapter we shall examine an important, but poorly understood, attribute of genetic systems: their ability to communicate with the environment of individuals and to guide an individual’s development in such a fashion as to enhance its reproductive fitness throughout its life. Little is known about how genes communicate, but communicate they do. From the examples to be discussed under the heading Population Quality one can readily deduce that such communication must entail negative feedback loops that control development in accordance with environmental dictates. Genes appear to have at their disposal alternative strategies of development which they switch on or suppress depending on the messages from the individual’s environment. We may call these mechanisms epigenetic mechanisms. It is C. H. Waddington (1957, 1960, 1975) who had a deep insight into their significance to an understanding of evolution. His thoughts are greatly neglected, and invariably misunderstood when mentioned, in the polemics about human evolution; the inadequate neo-Darwinian paradigm is still king, as illustrated, for instance, in discussions by Wilson (1975), Trivers (1974), Alexander (1974), Durham (1976), or Ruyle et al (1977).