Posts Tagged ‘Genes’

Scientists Mutate Flatworms without Altering Genes

November 28, 2015

This is another very interesting piece I found on Tumblr. Biologists at Tufts University have managed to make one species of flatworm grow the brains and heads of other species without altering its genetic makeup. This suggests that the body plan of living creatures may be partly determined by the bioelectric fields and synapses, and develop according to epigenetic processes. These are the biological processes that affect the shape of living being which aren’t caused by that creature’s genes.

Flatworm EvolutionPic

It’s a fascinating addition to modern evolutionary theory, which takes it beyond the simple Neo-Darwinian synthesis formulated at the beginning of the 20th century by Theodososius Dobzhansky and Fisher, amongst others. This stated that evolution worked through the appearance of mutations in living creatures’ genetic codes, which provided the raw material for the operation of Darwin’s natural selection. If the mutations proved beneficial, then the creature thrived and had more offspring, and the genes spread through the rest of that creature’s population. If the mutations were harmful, then the creature died, taking with it the faulty genes. Gradually these mutations, selected by the environment, mounted up until a new species emerged, descended from its predecessor.

This complicates the situation. There’s a theory that Lamarck based his theory that evolution was driven through inherited characteristics partly on misunderstood observations of epigenetic alterations in the animals he studied. Some of the changes can be quite dramatic. For example, some species of animal have been known to develop additions to the digestive system according to changes in diet. John Maynard Smith, one of the leaders and founders of modern Neo-Darwinian biology, also speculated in a small book published on evolution in the 1990s that the forms of living creatures may also be partly determined by the changes in the developing embryo in the very first stages of life. I’ve been told that there’s a heretical view of the development of living organisms held by a few university biologists, which states that these changes are largely responsible for the shape of the organism, with the creature’s genes determining only minor differences.

This experiment adds more information to the debate, and seems to support the indications that epigenetics – non-genetic processes – could play a stronger role in shaping living things than previously considered.

Ancient Egyptian Ships in Iron Age Britain

July 7, 2014

Here’s another one for the Kippers. I used to save newspaper clipping on items of particular interest, such as space, archaeology and general weirdness, to send in to the Fortean Times. Rummaging through them this morning, I found this little gem from the Daily Mail, Saturday, 26th August 2000.

Where the Hull have we landed, pharaoh?

Egyptian were shipwrecked off the east coast of Britain some 2,700 years ago and settled in Hull, it was claimed yesterday.

Three wooden boats found in mud on the banks of the Humber in 1937 – thought at first to be Viking- are now said to date from around 700 BC and be identical to ones which once navigated the Nile. Egyptologist Lorraine Evans says her findings will revolutionise views about our ancestors. ‘The simple fact that many peoples of Britain are going about their daily business unaware of their Egyptian heritage is astounding,’ she added.

I can remember talking to a friend of mine about the possibility of ancient contact between Britain and the Land of the Nile, following some of the very bonkers stuff published in the 19th century. One of the century’s great eccentrics decided that ancient Israel was really Great Britain, because obviously only the British were truly great enough to be the descendants of the ancient Israelites. He also believed that Scotland was ancient Greece, and that many of Britain’s place-names were actually derived from ancient Egyptian. Robin Hood’s Hill in Bristol, for example, was really Ra-benu, a reference to the rising sun. It is indeed, completely mad, absolutely wrong, but strangely fascinating.

My friend replied that he’d been talking to a scientist friend, who told him that a set of genetic tests had been done in Birmingham to see if the genetic information taken would allow them to trace the people’s origins. Of course, Birmingham now has a highly diverse population, including people from all over the world. He remarked that apart from people of more recent African and Asian origin, they found evidence of ancient Egyptian heritage in the genes of the traditional population, who had been there for centuries. I think the genetic evidence suggested that this heritage goes way back to the Iron Age.

Which means, if I interpret that correctly, that a proportion of White Brummies are descended from travellers from ancient Egypt.

So there have been African immigrants to Britain from a very long time ago.

Which is something the Kippers can discuss when debating leaving Europe and putting up even more restrictions on immigration.