Sunday 25 September 2011
survival of the fittest for the lab
Looking at the 22 Sept issue of Nature (I have a piece on artists in labs in the previous issue), it occurs to me that there should be a new evolutionary category: survival of the fittest for the lab. Some animals and plants are used so regularly for genomic research and bred so extensively in labs that they have become incredibly "successful" in evolutionary (if not ethical) terms. For animals I am of course thinking of drosophila, the fruit fly (see http://www.fruitfly.org/). A good candidate amongst plants is arabidopsis, rock cress (http://www.arabidopsis.org/), the genome of which features in this week's Nature. However, the category "fittest for the lab" involves human intention and purposeful intervention, which removes it from hard Darwinian evolutionary theory, just as Richard Dawkins's "meme" (unit of cultural survival) cannot be seen other than superficially in Darwinian terms. Dawkins does not realise / acknowledge this, but he strategies, as in the Selfish Gene, have always been slippery and of dubious intellectual honesty.