Time to update taxonomy? - A thought experiment.

Tony Irwin tony.irwin at BTINTERNET.COM
Sun Feb 2 10:41:56 CST 2003

Richard Pyle wrote:
> Perhaps not...but with such enormous quantities of genetic data, I reckon
> we'd understand a HELL of a lot more about the natural world around us
> (remember the ultimate goal) than we have thus far been able to accumulate
> over centuries past, by "traditional" means.

I have yet to be convinced that gathering enormous qauantities of genetic
data will result in a greater understanding of the natural world. Knowing
the sequence of bases in some species DNA may enable us to speculate about
its evolutionary history, but unless we understand what the coding is for,
we cannot know how those genes help the organism to survive, or how it
affects the ability of other species, including ourselves, to survive.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't there easier ways than base sequencing
to discover the gestation period of a Sumatran Tiger, or whether a
particular mosquito population can transmit malaria? Conventional taxonomy
may take longer, but the product is altogether more useful, particularly for
those of us who do not have access to pocket-sized base-sequencers.
As for the shortcomings of the Linnaean system, I'm not at all sure that any
other system will have fewer. (Just how many people do you know who are
still using those old, unrememberable Compuserve e-mail addresses?)  If
communication is our goal, we should stick to a proven system that can be
used with a variety of media by most people in the world. Adoption of
anything else
could lead to an elite clique of taxonomists happily telling one another
everything there is to know about base sequences, but knowing little if
anything about real life!

Tony Irwin

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