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Health

The old taking strength from the young

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanJanuary 17, 2006 11:13 AM

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Heredity has two free reviews up, Quantitative genetics: Small but not forgotten, and Evolutionary genetics: Fight or flinch? New fields like genomics and evo-devo get a lot of press, and deservedly so, but I believe that the swarm of data generated by these disciplines is going to revitalize quantitative (biometry) and evolutionary genetics. Ultimately the natural sciences are fundamentally a unity. Even though quantum chemistry, molecular biology and ecology have their own domains of study and tools of the trade, there is a common ontological assumption, that of the physical world around us being open to rational exploration and because of its ordered, regular and natural character. In fields which are close enough in domain cross-fertilization can be play a crucial energizing role. To give a banal example, W.D. Hamilton's original work on kin selection was predicated upon assumptions in regards to the coefficient of relatedness within colonies of eusocial insects. Today, genetic assays that ultimately emerged from the zeitgeist of molecular biology are playing a crucial role in the empirical investigation of insect sociobiology, just as 40 years ago Richard Lewontin and John Hubby revolutionized evolutionary genetics and birthed the juggernaut that is Neutral Theory by analyzing the polymorphic charcter of allozymes. On a more theoretical level diffusion equations which were originally developed in physics and engineering to model heat flow turn out to be rather handy tools in conceptualizing the process of allele frequency dynamics. Unfortunately the proliferation of opportunities in some parts of the life sciences is resulting, I believe, in a temporary withdrawl of oxygen from affinal fields because of the stampede of grant money and graduate students into sexy territory. But in the long run I think that the new disciplines are good for the older ones, and ultimately all of science benefits because all of science is a contingent system that is a unity.

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