By: Meaghan Lee-Erlandsen and Dr. Nora Khaldi on 05 February 2015
Currently, when one studies the evolution of molecules through millions of years there seems to be a huge emphasis on the theory of selfishness. Richard Dawkins stressed this viewpoint in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, where he hypothesized that adaptive evolution occurs through the survival of competing genes rather than the perspective of competing organisms . This “selfish gene” theory has been popular over the last few decades and ultimately emphasizes that the unity of an organism is a misconception stemming from a “transient alliance between otherwise-warring genes” .
However, Professor David Penny, argues in his recent paper, “Cooperation and selfishness both occur during molecular evolution”, that cooperation of genes plays a very important role, a role that is as important as that of selfishness, in the evolution of molecules. Professor Penny was kind enough to summarize this incredibly intriguing work for us:
The selfish aspect of evolution has been over-emphasised, but at the level of genes and proteins the cooperative aspect of evolution is very obvious. Thousands of proteins must work together to make the many molecules necessary for a working cell. The cell is a giant cooperative system of thousands of genes and proteins that function together, even if the cell has to simultaneously resist parasites. These macromolecules have no idea when they are helping, or hindering, other groups of genes – they are just dumb molecules! This cooperative nature, along with competition, must therefore be considered part of normal evolution. We need to assert more strongly that genes, and gene products, must work together as a cooperative unit.
Indeed, these “dumb molecules” are simply functioning; they are unknowing if they are competing or cooperating but are indeed both working together to ensure functionality as well as fighting against perceived threats.
We at Nuritas™ are very excited regarding the strides taken by research such as this towards the further understanding of the functionality of genes. We believe that such progress will not only shed further light on the complexities of our evolutionary past but will also ensure many advances in our future.
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References: Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1976  http://www.zoo.ox.ac.uk/group/gardner/publications/GardnerWelch_2011.pdf