[Taxacom] Robust argument

Robin Leech releech at telus.net
Sun Jun 28 10:51:52 CDT 2009

Hi Bob,

I dunno about expanding the meanings of "genome", or ",...use a word with a 
with a broader meaning,...".  The power of a word is the uniqueness of its 
meaning, so that only one meaning is meant or can be connoted.

For example, look at how the words "aggravate" and "decimate" have come to 
mean pretty well anything the speaker or author wants them to mean, and it 
is only by association that we understand what the speaker or author tried 
to make them mean.

Aggravate: original meaning, to make worse; present meaning, to irritate or 
Decimate: to kill 1 in 10; present meaning, to destroy utterly.

I feel that what we need to do is to carefully coin and define a new set of 
words.  We can do this, and if they "do the job", they will be readily 
accepted, especially if the words and their definitions are prepared by an 
august body of biologists.  For example, 50 years ago we did not have the 
word "synapomorphic" and all the other Hennigian terms.  Today all of us are 
immersed with these words.

Over the yearss, ecologists coined many words.  Each ecologist, working in 
his/her own vacuum, felt that the observations regarding a particular plant 
or animal, or interaction, were unique findings in biology.  As we now know, 
many were not unique findings, so we synonymized a whole bunch of ecological 
words.  But now we have wound up with a good core set of words to use to 
explain ecological findings.  We still use those core words.

Robin Leech

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Bob Mesibov" <mesibov at southcom.com.au>
To: <michael.heads at yahoo.com>
Cc: <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
Sent: Saturday, June 27, 2009 11:25 PM
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Robust argument

>I couldn't agree more that the word 'genome' needs relaxing so that it 
>isn't restricted to genes and gene inheritance, or alternatively that we 
>use a word with a broader meaning, so that inheritance isn't restricted to 
>genetic inheritance. There probably is such a word in the biological 
>literature already. Anyone know it?
> IMHO this is what Richard Pyle and others have done on TAXACOM a number of 
> times, i.e. argued that genes are the only things passed down the 
> evolutionary tree, therefore everything we can infer about organismal 
> history is somehow inherent in the genome, and if we could only read the 
> genome properly we'd have the whole evolutionary story.
> All three clauses are untrue. This kind of reasoning had a chemical 
> analogy in the 19th and early 20th century: organisms are only made of 
> atoms and molecules, there's no vital force; therefore everything we can 
> infer about how organisms work is inherent in atoms and molecules, and if 
> we could only completely understand the chemistry we'd have the whole 
> organismal story. Anyone still think that way?
> Genes are not the only things passed down the evolutionary tree. Michael 
> Heads and I have mentioned location. You can look as deep as you like into 
> the genome, but you won't find the 'endemicity address' that locates a 
> plant species on top of some mountain on Madagascar. That address is 
> inherited. It's passed on to the next generation of seedlings by the 
> current generation of seeding plants. Fuzziness in location as an 
> inherited character is equivalent to variation in any gene-inherited 
> character.
> There are other non-genetic ways in which evolution is directed. Many are 
> contained with the word 'co-evolution' - of parasites and their hosts, and 
> of other tightly associated taxa. Think of a beetle which feeds on a 
> particular plant, concentrates a particular metabolite from that plant, 
> stores it in a special structure, then uses the material to defend its 
> eggs against egg predators. You can find genetic traces of this separately 
> in the beetle genome, the host plant genome and the predator genome. You 
> think you can reconstruct this bit of evolutionary history from those 
> genetic traces?
> Conversely, there are inferences I can readily draw from fossil structures 
> about the environments and evolutionary history of extinct taxa. I can't 
> do that from the genomes of descendants, especially if there aren't any. 
> Is this history irrelevant, because it isn't in the genome?
> The only way in which the only-the-genome-contains-history fallacy can be 
> sustained is for its proponents to claim that the only evolutionary 
> history worth knowing is what can be deduced from relationships between 
> the genomes of living forms. This is as circular as any reasoning can get.
> -- 
> Dr Robert Mesibov
> Honorary Research Associate
> Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, and
> School of Zoology, University of Tasmania
> Home contact: PO Box 101, Penguin, Tasmania, Australia 7316
> (03) 64371195; 61 3 64371195
> Website: http://www.qvmag.tas.gov.au/mesibov.html
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