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Great discoveries....

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanJanuary 18, 2006 4:16 AM


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Via RPM I see that Chad at Uncertain Principles is asking about seminal discoveries and experiments in biology. This is a enormous field and I'm not really good at "lists." But here are a few off the top of my head.... In the 19th century - As far as theory goes it I think Darwin's idea of natural selection upon heritable variation as the motive force behind the process of evolution is the bomb. If you read Origin of Species and Descent of Man you see just how fertile Darwin's mind was, and some of his ideas like sexual selection have only recently become the focus of research again. For experiments I would think Mendel's work needs to be mentioned since it was the seed for the discipline of genetics. In the 20th century - I think Watson and Crick's paper is head and shoulders above anything else because it made the reductionist project in evolutionary biology much more coherent. What Mendelian genetics did to evolutionary theory, DNA did to Mendelian genetics. But, I also believe in regards to evolutionary biology R.A. Fisher's 1918 paper The Correlation between Relatives on the Supposition of Mendelian Inheritance was a necessary precondition for the reemergence of Darwinian evolutionary theory and the coalescence of the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis. This paper definitively fused discrete Mendelian genetics and quantitative genetics in the Galtonian tradition, showing that continuous traits emerge naturally from multiple variable loci. As far as experiments go the allozyme work reported in the twopapers by Richard Lewontin and John Hubby in 1966 really stands out for me. They showed that both the Classical and Balance Schools (headed by Fisher and Sewall Wright respectively) made false predictions about the frequency of genetic polymorphism and stimulated the Neutralist revolution (headed by Motoo Kimura) in molecular genetics. After Lewontin and Hubby no one could deny the importance of molecular techniques in evolutionary biology. Of course, my bias is toward evolution and genetics, so RPM has already said a lot of what I was thinking....

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