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Open Access Open Badges Book review

The next evolutionary synthesis: from Lamarck and Darwin to genomic variation and systems biology

Jonathan BL Bard

Author Affiliations

Department of Physiology, Anatomy & Genetics, University of Oxford, UK

Cell Communication and Signaling 2011, 9:30  doi:10.1186/1478-811X-9-30

Published: 3 November 2011


The evolutionary synthesis, the standard 20th century view of how evolutionary change occurs, is based on selection, heritable phenotypic variation and a very simple view of genes. It is therefore unable to incorporate two key aspects of modern molecular knowledge: first is the richness of genomic variation, so much more complicated than simple mutation, and second is the opaque relationship between the genotype and its resulting phenotype. Two new and important books shed some light on how we should view evolutionary change now. Evolution: a view from the 21st century by J.A. Shapiro (2011, FT Press Science, New Jersey, USA. pp. 246.) examines the richness of genomic variation and its implications. Transformations of Lamarckism: from Subtle Fluids to Molecular Biology edited by S.B. Gissis & E. Jablonka (2011, MIT Press, Cambridge, USA. pp. 457) includes some 40 papers that anyone with an interest in the history of evolutionary thought and the relationship between the environment and the genome will want to read. This review discusses both books within the context of contemporary evolutionary thinking and points out that neither really comes to terms with today's key systems-biology question: how does mutation-induced variation in a molecular network generate variation in the resulting phenotype?