Directed Mutation and Galileo

Tom McCloud mccloud-tom at
Sat Jan 1 18:58:48 EST 2000

    I am a bit puzzled why this is posted to plants.  It would seem
more appropriate to microbiology or mycology, but I checked the
headers, and the post is to only a single group.  So at risk of puppy
feeding, here we go:
   I have not read the references the poster has cited.   But a single
thought immediately came to mind as I read the post:     One could
attempt to quantify the rate of mutation for some measurable
properties, and even the rate of advantageous mutation, but since one
cannot quantify the rate of lethal mutation,  the percentage rate of
favorable mutation cannot be calculated.     You can certainly
establish the numerator of the equation, the number of favorable
mutations, but what is the denominator?  The number of mutations
detected?  If that is the number used as a denomintor to make a
calculation then certainly the apparent percentage of advantageous
mutation will be high.  And it will also be wrong.      Demonstrate to
me that you have a solid, scientifically valid method for determining
a TOTAL mutation rate.   Tom McCloud

On 01 Jan 2000 13:14:52 GMT, jorolat at (Jorolat) wrote:
>    In 1988 a minor collision occurred between natural reality and evolutionary
>theory when an article entitled "The Origin of Mutants" [1] appeared in Nature
>Magazine. The authors (Cairns et al.) reported experiments in which
>advantageous mutations in bacteria appeared to have happened with a greater
>frequency than conventional theory could account for. Subsequent experiments
>producing similar results have been performed by other scientists one of whom,
>Barry Hall, has said "Mutations that occur more when they`re useful than when
>they`re not: that I can document any day, every day, in the laboratory" [2].
>Various mechanisms have been proposed to account for the phenomena, research
>continues and  links to web-sites containing commentaries and details of
>specific experiments are appended [3].
>   Much of the furore which followed publication of the original article was
>invoked by how the results of the experiments were interpreted. For example,
>the sentence "We describe here experiments and some circumstantial evidence
>suggesting that bacteria can choose which mutations they should produce" caused
>many people to make an immediate association with the theories of Lamarck and
>predictably generated a storm of protest. In circumstances such as these the
>significance of any discovery tends to become secondary as arguments and
>counter-arguments rage and consequently attempts have been made to find a
>description of the phenomena less emotive than the original one of "Directed
>   "[the mutations]...have been called "adaptive", "directed", "Cairnsian",
>"selection-induced", "stationary-phase", "stressful lifestyle-associated
>mutations (SLAM)", and even "Fred" by one researcher who gave up trying to find
>a name that would not inflame critics" (my italics).
>   The above quotation is taken from an article written in 1997 by Susan
>Rosenberg [4] who is a researcher in this field and appears under the
>sub-heading of "The mutation whose name one dare not speak". It is suggested
>the reason "one dare not speak" is due to fear of invoking similar conditioned
>responses as those that Galileo encountered upon presentation of the
>Heliocentric Theory. Though charged with heresy Galileo`s real crime was
>psychological in that he suggested a reality conflicting with the life-long
>conditioning of his contemporaries who, either unable or unrequired to
>re-adjust, characteristically made him responsible for their inner turmoil by
>forcing Galileo to recant prior to the imposition of house arrest. As is usual
>in any psychological hierarchy awareness of Galileo`s natural right to an
>independent experience of life was entirely missing and the "punishment"
>   Conditioned responses of the type indicated above generally require their
>specific "triggers" but the underlying psychological mechanism is generic.
>Illustrating this point is an example that recently occurred in Dover, England:
>  "One of the incidents in "The Secret of the Toys" involved [3 year-old] Jenny
>and ..... a woman called Eleanor. It was witnessed by several people two of
>whom made an approach after the child had gone home:
>"Did you see what that yank kid did to Eleanor?"
>   The tone in which "yank kid " was said indicated that the first step in the
>acquisition of a new victim had been taken. Now that Jenny was a yank she
>automatically became potentially responsible for all the resentment the term
>had accumulated since it first acquired negative connotations. The two people
>were of an age where this had probably happened when Americans were "over
>sexed, over paid and over here". No doubt it had been added to in the
>interim..." [5]
>   The mechanism is simple: responses to the present moment become a function
>of what in real terms is an entirely unrelated psychological past and it is
>suggested that similar transitions occurred whenever those researching
>"Directed Mutation" became responsible for all things "Lamarckian" (it is
>emphasised, however, that though the mechanism is generic the degree of the
>conditioned response is not: the capability to translate "Directed Mutation"
>into "Lamarckism" does not imply the capability to translate "Jenny" into
>   Conditioning frequently occurs when a person is being trained and an easily
>recognizable example is the soldier returning to civilian life who, as a result
>of psychological adjustments made during basic training, has initial difficulty
>in not automatically marching in step with whomever they accompany. The
>difficulty occurs as growing awareness that marching in step will never be
>necessary again upsets the "comfort zone" formed during (and to compensate for)
>the conditioning process. By way of contrast a soldier who "learns" to march in
>step would retain the natural capacity to do so only when circumstances warrant
>   In a perhaps less obvious but similar manner conditioning can also occur in
>the classroom, students may not only be intellectually receptive to what is
>being taught but also psychologically susceptible to how it is taught. A
>spontaneous question about Directed Mutation, for example, could invoke a
>conditioned anti-Lamarckian response leading to inhibition not only within the
>questioner but also within any other student who momentarily feels an interest
>in the question. The degree of inhibition would be increased if the
>anti-Lamarckian response contained an element of ridicule because of the
>tendency for "sycophantic" students to a) immediately indulge or join in
>derisory laughter and b) permanently adopt a similar bias. The subsequent
>repression of natural impulses within any of the students (to avoid the
>psychological "no-go" area that has been declared) would be a form of
>self-conditioning that could, over time, lead to the formation of attitudes
>sympathetic to those of the tutor. One manner in which irrelevant prejudices
>can be perpetuated.
>   Soon after publication of "The Origin of Mutants" a geneticist from the
>University of  Maryland commented "Many people have had such observations, but
>they have problems getting them published" [6] and Shapiro, whose work preceded
>Cairns, said "The significance of the Cairns paper is not in the presentation
>of new data but in the framing of the questions and in changing the psychology
>of the situation" [7] . One hopes the psychology of the situation will continue
>to change, it is of little interest to anyone alive to-day if in a century or
>two hindsight shows that those investigating the phenomena of "stationary-phase
>mutations" have been, or are, guilty of heresy.
>   The phenomena of "stationary-phase mutations" has many interesting
>possibilities: what if, for example, the mechanism responsible also existed in
>the single-cell Common Ancestor?. One could speculate further but at the moment
>perhaps it is sufficient to say how unfortunate researchers in any field should
>feel the need to use the words "one dare not speak".   
>[1] Cairns, Overbaugh and Miller (1988), The Origin of Mutants, Nature 335:
> (subscription required)
>[2] Corliss (1990), Hypermutation rather than Directed Mutation?, Science
>Frontiers (secondary source)      
>[3] Beardsley (1997), Evolution Evolving, Scientific American      
> (click on the "In Focus" article)
>     Richardson, Survival of the Mutable      
>     Goodman, Directed Mutation: Heredity Made to Order      
>     Jones, Suntoke, Shereck, Molecular Biology of Prokaryotes - Directed
>[4] Rosenberg (1997), Mutation for Survival, Genetics and Developement Vol 7,
>No. 6     
>  n.b. access to this
>article is free until 31/12/99
>[5] Latter (1999), Racism       
>[6] [7] Corliss (1989), Directed Mutation, Science Frontiers (secondary source)
>Model of an Internal Evolutionary Mechanism (presented as an extension to
>Homoeostasis) and proposed method of testing.
>Psychology. Social Psychology inc. Real-Life stories.

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