Constructive neutral evolution: exploring evolutionary theory’s curious disconnect
Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology Research, 9600 Gudelsky Drive, Rockville, MD 20850, USA
Biochemical Science Division, NIST, 100 Bureau Drive, Gaithersburg, MD 20899, USA
Biology Direct 2012, 7:35 doi:10.1186/1745-6150-7-35Published: 13 October 2012
Constructive neutral evolution (CNE) suggests that neutral evolution may follow a stepwise path to extravagance. Whether or not CNE is common, the mere possibility raises provocative questions about causation: in classical neo-Darwinian thinking, selection is the sole source of creativity and direction, the only force that can cause trends or build complex features. However, much of contemporary evolutionary genetics departs from the conception of evolution underlying neo-Darwinism, resulting in a widening gap between what formal models allow, and what the prevailing view of the causes of evolution suggests. In particular, a mutationist conception of evolution as a 2-step origin-fixation process has been a source of theoretical innovation for 40 years, appearing not only in the Neutral Theory, but also in recent breakthroughs in modeling adaptation (the “mutational landscape” model), and in practical software for sequence analysis. In this conception, mutation is not a source of raw materials, but an agent that introduces novelty, while selection is not an agent that shapes features, but a stochastic sieve. This view, which now lays claim to important theoretical, experimental, and practical results, demands our attention. CNE provides a way to explore its most significant implications about the role of variation in evolution.
Alex Kondrashov, Eugene Koonin and Johann Peter Gogarten reviewed this article.