Monthly Archives: May 2010

Designing Evolution

A version of social engineering known as “nudging” has many parallels with front-loading evolution. Key to the concept of nudging is the “choice architecture”: What is “choice architecture” and how does it affect the average person’s daily life?

Thaler and Sunstein: Choice architecture is the context in which you make your choice. Suppose you go into a cafeteria. What do you see first, the salad bar or the burger and fries stand? Where’s the chocolate cake? Where’s the fruit? These features influence what you will choose to eat, so the person who decides how to display the food is the choice architect of the cafeteria. All of our choices are similarly influenced by choice architects.

Let’s rephrase this. A choice architecture is a context that has been set up to favor certain choices or outcomes. The choice architecture is the design and it is this design that influences the choices or outcomes later in time.

At this point, we simply ask whether choice architecture/context must necessarily be environmental?

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Bear Know Kung Fu

Fulfilling Future Needs

[I’ve combined all the previous RNAP entries together to make it easier to read.  However, I did not have the time to thoroughly edit, so some parts might seem a little repetitive.]

It is well known that eukaryotic cells are more complex than prokaryotic cells. For example, while the typical eukaryotic cell is 10-100 micrometers in diameter, contains numerous membranous organelles, has an elaborate cytoskeleton, and reproduces through mitosis, the typical bacterial cell is only 0.2-2.0 micrometers in diameter, lacks organelles, and reproduces through binary fission. Clearly, the cytological complexity of the eukaryotic cell is not needed in order to be alive.

Yet the theme of needless complexity repeats itself at increasingly smaller scales like a fractal image.

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The Point of Contention

Here’s a key excerpt from an interview with Lynn Margulis

Francisco Ayala is presenting at the “evolutionary mechanisms session” in Rome. He was trained in Catholicism, Spanish-style, as a Dominican. We were in California at a meeting with Whiteheadian philosopher John Cobb. At that meeting Ayala agreed with me when I stated that this doctrinaire neo-Darwinism is dead. He was a practitioner of neo-Darwinism but advances in molecular genetics, evolution, ecology, biochemistry, and other news had led him to agree that neo-Darwinism’s now dead.

The components of evolution (I don’t think any scientist disagrees) that exist because there’s so much data for them are: (1) the tendency for exponential growth of all populations — that is growth beyond a finite world; and (2) since the environment can’t sustain them, there’s an elimination process of natural selection.

The point of contention in science is here:

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Page of Cups

Having a Bad Day

Nudging Multicellularity into Existence

As we have seen, the bacterial and archaeal RNA polyermase (RNAP) differ in complexity. Despite the fact that the cell plan of both life forms is small, relatively simple, and streamlined, the RNAPs differ remarkably in terms of complexity, where the bacterial version is built from four parts, while the archaeal version is built from 11 parts. The archaeal version has homologs of the four bacterial components needed to carry out the core process of transcription, meaning the remaining parts are “bells and whistles”

As far as I have been able to determine, no one has thought to ask why the archaeal RNAP is so much more needlessly complex than the bacterial version. I would expect the non-teleological perspective would “explain” this disparity by insisting that there are many ways to transcribe DNA into RNA and these two RNAPs would merely reflect the many roads to Rome. But that is not a very satisfying speculation. So let me be the first to ask the question and the first to propose an answer.

From the hypothesis of front-loading, allow me to formulate a testable hypothesis – the “bells and whistles” of the archaeal RNAP – Rbp 4, 5, 7, 10, 11, and 12 – will play crucial roles in the emergence of a) the eukaryotic cell and/or b) complex, metazoan life

If we begin our analysis by focusing on Rbp4 and 7, which function together as a dimer, we have already seen some clues to support this hypothesis. First, Rnp4 and probably 7 are not needed in order for archaebacteria or single-celled yeast cells to survive, but are essential for the survival of multicellular fungi. Second, Rnp4/7 appear to be preadapted to facilitate the emergence of the complex eukaryotic cell plan given they not only function in transcription, but also moonlight to control RNA decay outside of the nucleus. Let’s now add some more clues.

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