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      Volume 96, Issue 3

      July 2017,   pages  399-533

    • Preface

      L. S. Shashidhara T. N. C. Vidya

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    • Conceptual foundations of evolutionary thought

      K. P. MOHANAN

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    • Unpacking the species conundrum: philosophy, practice and a way forward


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      The history of ecology and evolutionary biology is rife with attempts to define and delimit species. However, there has been confusion between concepts and criteria, which has led to discussion, debate, and conflict, eventually leading to lack of consistency in delimitation. Here, we provide a broad review of species concepts, a clarification of category versus concept, an account of the general lineage concept (GLC), and finally a way forward for species discovery and delimitation. Historically, species were considered as varieties bound together by reproduction. After over 200 years of uncertainty, Mayr attempted to bring coherence to the definition of species through the biological species concept (BSC). This has, however, received much criticism, and the last half century has spawned at least 20 other concepts. A central philosophical problem is that concepts treat species as ‘individuals’ while the criteria for categorization treats them as ‘classes’. While not getting away from this problem entirely, the GLC attempts to provide a framework where lineage divergence is influenced by a number of different factors (and correlated to different traits) which relate to the different species concepts. We also introduce an ‘inclusive’ probabilistic approach for understanding and delimiting species. Finally, we provide aWallacean (geography related) approach to the Linnaean problem of identifying and delimiting species, particularly for cases of allopatric divergence, and map this to the GLC. Going one step further, we take a morphometric terrainapproach to visualizing and understanding differences between lineages. In summary, we argue that while generalized frameworks may work well for concepts of what species are, plurality and ‘inclusive’ probabilistic approaches may work best for delimitation.

    • Complexity: the organizing principle at the interface of biological (dis)order


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      The term complexity means several things to biologists.When qualifying morphological phenotype, on the one hand, it is used to signify the sheer complicatedness of living systems, especially as a result of the multicomponent aspect of biological form. On the other hand, it has been used to represent the intricate nature of the connections between constituents that make up form: amore process-based explanation. In the context of evolutionary arguments, complexity has been defined, in a quantifiable fashion, as the amount of information, an informatic template such as a sequence of nucleotides or amino acids stores about its environment. In this perspective, we begin with a brief review of the history of complexity theory. We then introduce a developmental and an evolutionary understanding of what it means for biological systems to be complex.We propose that the complexity of living systems can be understood through two interdependent structural properties: multiscalarity of interconstituent mechanisms and excitability of the biological materials. The answer to whether a system becomes more or less complex over time depends on the potential for itsconstituents to interact in novel ways and combinations to give rise to new structures and functions, as well as on the evolution of excitable properties that would facilitate the exploration of interconstituent organization in the context of their microenvironments and macroenvironments.

    • Epigenetic inheritance, prions and evolution


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      The field of epigenetics has grown explosively in the past two decades or so. As currently defined, epigenetics deals with heritable, metastable and usually reversible changes that do not involve alterations in DNA sequence, but alter the way that information encoded inDNAis utilized.The bulk of current research in epigenetics concerns itself with mitotically inherited epigenetic processes underlying development or responses to environmental cues (as well as the role of mis-regulation or dys-regulation of such processes in disease and ageing), i.e., epigenetic changes occurring within individuals. However, a steadily growing body of evidence indicates that epigenetic changes may also sometimes be transmitted from parents to progeny, meiotically in sexually reproducingorganisms or mitotically in asexually reproducing ones. Such transgenerational epigenetic inheritance (TEI) raises obvious questions about a possible evolutionary role for epigenetic ‘Lamarckian’ mechanisms in evolution, particularly when epigenetic modifications are induced by environmental cues. In this review I attempt a brief overview of the periodically reviewed and debated ‘classical’ TEI phenomena and their possible implications for evolution. The review then focusses on a less-discussed, unique kind of protein-onlyepigenetic inheritance mediated by prions. Much remains to be learnt about the mechanisms, persistence and effects of TEI. The jury is still out on their evolutionary significance and how these phenomena should be incorporated into evolutionary theory, but the growing weight of evidence indicates that likely evolutionary roles for these processes need to be seriously explored.

    • Ascus dysgenesis in hybrid crosses of Neurospora and Sordaria (Sordariaceae)


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      When two lineages derived from a common ancestor become reproductively isolated (e.g. Neurospora crassa and N. tetrasperma), genes that have undergone mutation and adaptive evolution in one lineage can potentially become dysfunctional when transferred into the other, since other genes have undergone mutation and evolution in the second lineage, and the derivedalleles were never ‘tested’ together before hybrid formation. Bateson (1909), Dobzhansky (1936), and Muller (1942) recognized that incompatibility between the derived alleles could potentially make the hybrid lethal, sterile, or display some other detriment. Alternatively, the detrimental effects seen in crosses with the hybrids may result from the silencing of ascus-development genes bymeiotic silencing by unpaired DNA (MSUD). Aberrant transcripts from genes improperly paired in meiosis are processed into single-stranded MSUD-associated small interfering RNA (masiRNA), which is used to degrade complementary mRNA. Recently, backcrosses of N. crassa / N. tetrasperma hybrid translocation strains with wild-type N. tetrasperma were found to elicit novel ascus dysgenesis phenotypes. One was a transmission ratio distortion that apparently disfavoured the homokaryotic ascospores formed following alternate segregation. Another was the production of heterokaryotic ascospores in eight-spored asci. Lewis (1969) also had reported sighting rare eight-spored asci with heterokaryotic ascospores in interspecific crosses in Sordaria, a related genus. Ordinarily, in both Neurospora and Sordaria, the ascospores are partitioned at the eight-nucleus stage, and ascospores in eight-spored asci are initially uninucleate. Evidently, in hybrid crosses of the family Sordariaceae, ascospore partitioning can be delayed until after one or more mitoses following the postmeiotic mitosis.

    • The placental gateway of maternal transgenerational epigenetic inheritance


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      While much of our understanding of genetic inheritance is based on the genome of the organism, it is becoming clear that there is an ample amount of epigenetic inheritance, which though reversible, escapes erasing process during gametogenesis and goes on to the next generation. Several examples of transgenerational inheritance of epigenetic features with potential impact onembryonic development and subsequent adult life have come to light. In placental mammals, the placenta is an additional route for epigenetic information flow. This information does not go through any meiotic reprogramming and is, therefore, likely to have a more profound influence on the organism. This also has the implication of providing epigenetic instructions for several months, which isclearly a maternal advantage. Although less well-known, there is also an impact of the embryo in emitting genetic information to the maternal system that remains well beyond the completion of the pregnancy. In this review, we discuss several factors in the context of the evolution of this mammal-specific phenomenon, including genomic imprinting, micromosaicism, and assisted reproduction.Wealso highlight how this kind of inheritancemight require attention in the modern lifestyle within the larger context of the evolutionary process.

    • Co-niche construction between hosts and symbionts: ideas and evidence


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      Symbiosis is a process that can generate evolutionary novelties and can extend the phenotypic niche space of organisms. Symbionts can act together with their hosts to co-construct host organs, within which symbionts are housed. Once established within hosts, symbionts can also influence various aspects of host phenotype, such as resource acquisition, protection from predation by acquisition of toxicity, as well as behaviour. Once symbiosis is established, its fidelity between generations must be ensured. Hosts evolve various mechanisms to screen unwanted symbionts and to facilitate faithful transmission of mutualistic partnersbetween generations. Microbes are the most important symbionts that have influenced plant and animal phenotypes; multicellular organisms engage in developmental symbioses with microbes at many stages in ontogeny. The co-construction of niches may result in composite organisms that are physically nested within each other. While it has been advocated that these composite organisms need new evolutionary theories and perspectives to describe their properties and evolutionary trajectories, it appears that standard evolutionary theories are adequate to explore selection pressures on their composite or individual traits. Recent advances in our understanding of composite organisms open up many important questions regarding the stability and transmission of these units.

    • Niche construction in evolutionary theory: the construction of an academic niche?


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    • Why Gupta et al.’s critique of niche construction theory is off target


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      Gupta et al., in their article in this issue (‘Niche construction in evolutionary theory: the construction of an academic niche?’. doi:10.1007/s12041-017-0787-6), lament ‘serious problems with the way science is being done’ and suggest that ‘niche construction theory exemplifies this state of affairs.’ However, their aggressively confrontational but superficial critique of niche construction theory (NCT) only contributes to these problems by attacking claims that NCT does not make. This is unfortunate, as their poor scholarship has done a disservice to the evolutionary biology community through propagating misinformation.We correct Gupta et al.’s misunderstandings, stressing that NCT does not suggest that the fact that organisms engage in niche constructionis neglected, nor does it make strong claims on the basis of its formal theory. Moreover, the treatment of niche construction as an evolutionary process has been highly productive, and is both theoretically and empirically well validated.We end by reflecting on the potentially deleterious implications of their publication for evolutionary science.

    • Feldman et al. do protest too much, we think


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    • The evolution of culture (or the lack thereof): mapping the conceptual space


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      This short essay is based on a lecture that I gave at short notice on a subject in which I am by no means an expert. The combination of lack of expertise and time for preparation, created an unexpectedly unique opportunity for thinking outside the box. I decided not to try to read up (as there was no time in any case) but instead to organize the little that I already knew about cultural evolution in a systematic schema—I attempted to create a scaffolding, on which I could hang everything I knew about cultural evolution, and hopefully, everything I might ever discover about cultural evolution in the future. I considered three dimensions ofthe study of cultural evolution, namely (i) the phenomenon of cultural evolution, (ii) production of knowledge in the field of cultural evolution, and (iii) the consequences or applications of an understanding of the evolution of culture.

    • The evolution of religious belief in humans: a brief review with a focus on cognition


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      Religion has been a widely present feature of human beings. This review explores developments in the evolutionary cognitive psychology of religion and provides critical evaluation of the different theoretical positions. Generally scholars have either believed religion is adaptive, a by-product of adaptive psychological features or maladaptive and varying amounts of empiricalevidence supports each position. The adaptive position has generated the costly signalling theory of religious ritual and the group selection theory. The by-product position has identified psychologicalmachinery that has been co-opted by religion. The maladaptive position has generated the meme theory of religion. The review concludes that the by-product camp enjoys the most support in thescientific community and suggests ways forward for an evolutionarily significant study of religion.

    • Social behavioural epistemology and the scientific community


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      The progress of science is influenced substantially by social behaviour of and social interactions within the scientific community. Similar to innovations in primate groups, the social acceptance of an innovation depends not only upon the relevance of the innovation but also on the social dominance and connectedness of the innovator. There are a number of parallels between many well-known phenomena in behavioural evolution and various behavioural traits observed in the scientific community. It would be useful, therefore, to use principles of behavioural evolution as hypotheses to study the social behaviour of the scientific community. I argue in this paper that a systematic study of social behavioural epistemology is likely to boost the progress of science by addressingseveral prevalent biases and other problems in scientific communication and by facilitating appropriate acceptance/rejection of novel concepts.

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      Posted on July 25, 2019

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