Is Carl Woese losing a Kingdom?

Arlin Stoltzfus arlin at is.dal.ca
Thu Sep 26 08:02:48 EST 1996

Jonathan Badger wrote:
> lamoran at gpu.utcc.utoronto.ca (L.A. Moran) writes:
> >True enough. THe important point about the Science paper is that Woese and
> >his colleagues continue to ignore any evidence that conflicts with their
> >preferred tree of life. This is a very sad situation.

I think we need to be careful accusing people of ignoring evidence.  
Woese, et al may not cite conflicting work, and may not bring up the 
subject of doubts about their preferred phylogeny.  This would be, at
best, a poor way to do scientific writing, but it wouldn't tell us
anything about what is being ignored or not ignored.  Right now they
are losing sleep, badly, over the evidence favoring paraphyletic 
archaebacteria, and over the evidence of non-congruence in protein 
phylogenies.  But since the issue is not yet resolved, they will 
continue to say what they have been saying for the past 20 years
about how distinct is their favorite group of organisms.  If the 
issue is resolved in a way that conflicts with their preconceptions, 
then perhaps it will be as Jonathan suggests:

> Provide good evidence why the
> current universal tree of life is wrong, and Woese will be on your
> side.

but the evidence would have to be crushingly obvious for certain people
to accept a paraphyletic archaebacteria, or a paraphyletic eubacteria
embracing the root of the tree of life, or a archaeo-whatever fusion
in the origin of the eukaryotic nucleus, etc.

> Woese has no fixed "preferred tree",
> but has an opinion of phylogeny that changes in response to the
> available data. For example, when Gogarten rooted the universal tree
> in 1988, Woese was an early supporter and quickly abandoned his prior
> belief of three independent lineages. 

The Woese-Kandler-Wheelis "domains" paper actually suggested that the
'progenote' idea was somehow bolstered by the new evidence.  Check it 
out. I couldn't believe it when I read it.  

Arlin Stoltzfus
Department of Biochemistry
Dalhousie University
Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 4H7 CANADA
(email) arlin at is.dal.ca 
(phone) 902-494-3569 
(fax) 902-494-1355

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