Evolution is intensely practical, but it still surprises

by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright June 2021


Evolution is intensely practical, but it still surprises.

Success at evolution is simple to measure: if you have lots of descendants then you are a winner. It is something I call passing The Grandchild Test.

The test is simple and it is what makes evolution so practical. But that intense practicality hasn't prevented surprises. One of those is diversity, and the forms diversity takes.

Roll back, way back, to when life consisted of nothing but viruses and single-celled organisms.

Given evolution's practicality, multi-cellular organisms would seem like an extravagance. Why assemble two or more cells into a group when a single cell can survive just fine? And who in that era would have guessed that DNA could contain the elaborate instructions necessary to make specialization happen?

The surprise was that specialization worked -- when cells assembled into clusters they could specialize and that specializing proved to be an effective alternative that could also pass The Grandchild Test.

It turns out that both work well. The Earth is filled with lots of both single-celled and multi-cellular organisms. Evolution is both practical and surprising.



--The End--