Molecular taxonomy: on way out?

Richard Pyle deepreef at BISHOPMUSEUM.ORG
Sat Jul 16 15:05:12 CDT 2005

> Morphology will rule again!

I think it may experience a renaissance, for sure.  But long term
domination....I'm not so sure.  I believe the problems with molecular
taxonomy are not so much with the molecules themselves, but with the limited
number of them we read, and the ways in which we interpret them for
inferring phylogenetic histories.  In a future world where whole genomes can
be read in minutes (seconds?), and where extremely sophisticated
developmental algorithms exist that can translate a complete genome (plus
some basic parameters about cytoplasmic content of gametes and general
environmental factors) into morphology (perhaps using quantum computers),
the pendulum will (rightly) swing back towards molecules.  When?  Dunno.  My
professional life time?  Maybe.

The question to ask as a champion of morphological taxonomy is: "Is there
any information useful for inferring evolutionary relationships that can be
interpreted from morphology that is not, somewhere, somehow, also
represented in the genome?"  Whether or not at this point in history we have
the technology and wisdom at our disposal to accurately extract the genomic
information and interpret it correctly, is an entirely separate question.

Bear in mind that I make this point as a classically-trained,
morphology-based alpha-level taxonomist, who has yet to base a taxonomic
assertion on molecular data.


Richard L. Pyle, PhD
Ichthyology, Bishop Museum
1525 Bernice St., Honolulu, HI 96817
Ph: (808)848-4115, Fax: (808)847-8252
email: deepreef at

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