Dr. John Sudhakar
Institute of Ophthalmology, Joseph Eye Hospital, Tirchy
Advisor, Chennai Cell Cluster
The march of progress in Darwin’s observations (1) can be summed up succinctly as follows:
-Every species is fertile enough that if all offspring survived to reproduce, the population would grow
-Despite periodic fluctuations, populations remain roughly the same size
-Resources such as food are limited and are relatively stable over time
A struggle for survival ensues
-Individuals in a population vary significantly from one another.
-Individuals less suited to the environment are less likely to survive and less likely to reproduce
-Individuals more suited to the environment are more likely to survive and more likely to reproduce their inheritable traits to future generations, which produces the process of natural selection
-This slowly effected process results in populations changing to adapt to their environments and ultimately these variations accumulate over time to form new species.
In September 1838, Darwin started reading Thomas Malthus's An Essay on the Principle of Population with its statistical proof that human populations breed beyond their means and struggle to survive.
Darwin related this to the struggle for existence among wildlife and "warring of the species" in plants; he immediately envisioned "a force like a hundred thousand wedges" pushing well-adapted variations into "gaps in the economy of nature", so that the survivors would pass on their form and abilities, and unfavorable variations would be destroyed.
Darwin went on to state his position thus
“ Owing to this struggle for life, any variation, however slight and from whatever cause proceeding, if it be in any degree profitable to an individual of any species, in its infinitely complex relations to other organic beings and to external nature, will tend to the preservation of that individual, and will generally be inherited by its offspring ... I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term of Natural Selection, in order to mark its relation to man's power of selection”(1)
Thus Darwin himself introduced the concept of Natural selection and contrasted it with man’s power of selection.
In other words there could be two distinct methods of selection.
Natural selection could and did override Man’s power of selection.
Man was a mute spectator to this mutant of natural selection.
That’s what we think.
That’s what we thought.
Today, much more than natural selection we are now faced with man’s power of selection-a process which we now call Synthetic Biology leading to a man-made techie with a smart name POSTHUMAN.
The multifaceted prongs of Man’s power of selection viz he ability to produce
- synthetic cells (2)
- synthetic DNA constructs(3),
- synthetic signaling(4),
- synthetic physiology(5),
- synthetic optogenetic transcription devices(6)
and much much moreare worthy exploring
The aim being to redesign the building blocks of life, to serve the needs of humanity.
The rapidly evolving issue of global climate change itself may force us to go in for synthetic trees, synthetic water and so forth.
In which case, synthetic human beings will have to keep pace technologically.
Thus in the final evolution of man, mans power of selection would grossly and phenomenally theoretically overtake the Darwin mechanism of Natural selection.
Or will Darwin’s natural selection have the last laugh in this fight to finish.
- Charles Darwin. On the origin of Species. 1859
- Gibson DG, Glass JI, Lartigue C, Noskov VN, Chuang RY, Algire MA, Benders GA, Montague MG, Ma L, Moodie MM, Merryman C, Vashee S, Krishnakumar R, Assad-Garcia N, Andrews-Pfannkoch C, Denisova EA, Young L, Qi ZQ, Segall-Shapiro TH, Calvey CH, Parmar PP, Hutchison CA 3rd, Smith HO, Venter JC. Creation of a bacterial cell controlled by a chemically synthesized genome. Science. 2010 Jul 2; 329(5987):52-6.
- Goltermann L, Bentin T. Mega-cloning and the advent of synthetic genomes. Artif DNA PNA XNA. 2010 Jul;1(1):54-57.
- O'Shaughnessy EC, Palani S, Collins JJ, Sarkar CA. Tunable signal processing in synthetic MAP kinase cascades. Cell. 2011 Jan 7; 144(1):119-31.
- Chow BY, Boyden ES. Physiology. Synthetic physiology. Science. 2011 Jun 24; 332(6037):1508-9.
- Ye H, Daoud-El Baba M, Peng RW, Fussenegger M. A synthetic optogenetic transcription device enhances blood-glucose homeostasis in mice. Science. 2011Jun 24; 332(6037):1565-8.
* This write-up on Synthetic Biology was the base for the abstract of a talk given by Dr John Sudhakar, Institute of Opthalmology, Joseph Eye Hospital, Trichy, Advisor, Chennai Cell Cluste in the Second International Seminar on "Fronteirs of Stem Cell & Biotechnology in Human & Veterinary Medicine, Madras Veterinary College, Chennai on 18th & 19th July 2011.