What does it mean to say that mutation is random? How does mutation influence evolution? Are mutations merely the raw material for selection to shape adaptations?
The author draws on a detailed knowledge of mutational mechanisms to argue that the randomness doctrine is best understood, not as a fact-based conclusion, but as the premise of a neo-Darwinian research program focused on selection. The successes of this research program created a blind spot – in mathematical models and verbal theories of causation – that has stymied efforts to re-think the role of variation. However, recent theoretical and empirical work shows that mutational biases can and do influence the course of evolution, including adaptive evolution, through a first come, first served mechanism.
This thought-provoking book cuts through the conceptual tangle at the intersection of mutation, randomness, and evolution, offering a fresh, far-reaching, and testable view of the role of variation as a dispositional evolutionary factor. The arguments will be accessible to philosophers and historians with a serious interest in evolution, as well as to researchers and advanced students of evolution focused on molecules, microbes, evo-devo, and population genetics.
1. Introduction. A Curious Disconnect
2. Ordinary Randomness
3. Practical Randomness
4. Evolutionary Randomness
5. Mutational Mechanisms and Evolvability
6. Randomness as Irrelevance
7. The Problem of Variation
8. Climbing Mount Probable
9. The Revolt of the Clay
10. Moving On
Appendix A. Mutation Exemplars
Appendix B. Counting the Universe of Mutations
Appendix C. Randomness Quotations
Appendix D. Irrelevance Quotations
Arlin Stoltzfus is a Fellow of the Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology Research, and a Research Biologist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Maryland, USA. He is an evolutionary biologist who uses computer-based approaches to study evolution at the molecular level. His primary interest has been to develop and evaluate theories about evolutionary factors other than natural selection. He and his coworkers proposed the theory of Constructive Neutral Evolution and showed theoretically that biases in the introduction of variation may impose biases on evolution without requiring neutrality.