Molecular taxonomy: on way out?

Ken Kinman kinman2 at YAHOO.COM
Sat Jul 16 21:24:12 CDT 2005

Well, for fossil taxa, morphology obviously continues to dominate and will continue to do so for a long time.  However, I don't think either molecules or morphology should "dominate" when it comes to living organisms.  Molecular and morphological data should be continually tested against each other.  Putting too many eggs in the molecular basket at the expense of funding for morphological studies is short-sighted, and that pendulum swing should be corrected.

      It's really not that different from the short-sighted move to strict cladism, where ALL the eggs are placed in the holophyletic basket.  That pendulum swing also needs to be corrected.  It shouldn't be a battle of holophyly vs. paraphyly, or of molecules vs. morphology, but a balanced mix that maximizes knowledge and minimizes errors in as far as our present data and technology allows.  Governmental funding agencies unfortunately seem to continue to excessively favor cladistic and molecular at the expense of more eclectic approaches.  Slowing, much less reversing, well-funded pendulum swings is no easy matter, but it will happen eventually as the negative impacts of such pendulum swings become increasingly apparent.
  ---Ken Kinman
Date:         Sat, 16 Jul 2005 15:05:12 -1000
From:         Richard Pyle <deepreef at BISHOPMUSEUM.ORG>
Subject:      Re: Molecular taxonomy: on way out?
In-Reply-To:  <D4458262827EED43901A0F3CCC7158321733E4 at>

> 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.

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