Conflicting genomes, the demic theory & biodiversity

H.F. Hoenigsberg

Organismic-centered Darwinism, in order to use direct phenotypes to measure natural selection's effect, necessitates genome's harmony and uniform coherence plus large population sizes. However, modern gene-centered Darwinism has found new interpretations to data that speak of genomic incoherence and disharmony. As a result of these two conflicting positions a conceptual crisis in Biology has arisen. My position is that the presence of small, even pocket-size, demes is instrumental in generating divergence and phenotypic crisis. Moreover, the presence of parasitic genomes as in acanthocephalan worms, which even manipulate suicidal behavior in their hosts; segregation distorters that change meiosis and Mendelian ratios; selfish genes and selfish whole chromosomes, such as the case of B-chromosomes in grasshoppers; P-elements in Drosophila; driving Y-chromosomes that manipulate sex ratios making males more frequent, as in Hamilton's X-linked drive; male strategists and outlaw genes, are eloquent examples of the presence of real conflicting genomes and of a non-uniform phenotypic coherence and genome harmony. Thus, we are proposing that overall incoherence and disharmony generate disorder but also more biodiversity and creativeness. Finally, if genes can manipulate natural selection, they can multiply mutations or undesirable characteristics and even lethal or detrimental ones, hence the accumulation of genetic loads. Outlaw genes can change what is adaptively convenient even in the direction of the trait that is away from the optimum. The optimum can be "negotiated" among the variants, not only because pleiotropic effects demand it, but also, in some cases, because selfish, outlaw, P-elements or extended phenotypic manipulation require it. With organismic Darwinism the genome in the population and in the individual was thought to act harmoniously without conflicts, and genotypes were thought to march towards greater adaptability. Modern Darwinism has a gene-centered vision in which genes, as natural selection's objects can move in dissonance in the direction which benefits their multiplication. Thus, we have greater opportunities for genomes in permanent conflict.

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