Question Regarding Dawkins' The Blind Watchmaker

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In summary: PMC link at the top right of the page).In summary, Dawkins discusses how horizontal gene transfer, or the transfer of genes between different species, has had a widespread impact on plant colonization of land. He mentions a paper by Appleby et al which suggests that Dawkins may not be correct in his assumption that all hemoglobins are found only in plants of the pea family.
  • #1
Hi everyone,

I'm currently reading Richard Dawkins' book The Blind Watchmaker and there is one part that had me really fascinated, but wasn't really explored in detail that much.

On page 249 he writes:

Duplication within the species isn't the only means by which the number of cooperating genes has increased in evolution. An even rarer, but still possibly very important occurrence, is the occasional incorporation of a gene from another species, even an extremely remote species. There are, for example, haemoglobins in the roots of plants of the pea family. They don't occur in any other plant families, and it seems almost certain that they somehow got into the pea family by cross infection from animals, viruses perhaps acting as intermediaries.

I know that some organisms (like anglerfish that use bio-luminescent bacteria, for example) can use other organisms in their own biochemistry, but I wasn't aware that a "cross infection", as he puts it, could occur.

Can anyone point me in the direction of some additional resources that explore this topic in detail? Preferably at the "pop science" level as my background is in math and physics, not biology!

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  • #2
I'm not sure what Dawkins had in mind, but searching for "horizontal gene transfer plants" on Google turned up (paper is free using the PMC link at the top right of the page). The introduction of the paper could provide some leads.

Arredondo-Peter and Escamilla point to a hypothesis by Appleby et al that Dawkins may not be right on this point, and that there may be hemoglobins in other other plants. Some more current work seems to be described in and
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  • #3
Excellent, thanks for the reply - knowing the name of what he's talking about should help narrow down the results!
  • #5

I find this topic very interesting as well. The idea of genes being transferred between species, known as horizontal gene transfer, has been studied extensively in recent years. It is a relatively rare occurrence, but it has been shown to play a significant role in evolution.

One example of horizontal gene transfer is the transfer of antibiotic resistance genes between bacteria. This has been a major concern in the medical field as it can lead to the spread of antibiotic resistance.

In terms of the specific example mentioned in the book, the transfer of haemoglobin genes from animals to plants is an interesting and rare occurrence. It is thought that this transfer may have occurred through viruses, which are known to be able to transfer genetic material between different species.

If you are interested in learning more about horizontal gene transfer, I recommend looking into the work of microbiologist Carl Woese and his research on the tree of life. He proposed the idea of a "web of life" rather than a tree, as horizontal gene transfer blurs the lines of traditional evolutionary relationships.

I also suggest reading articles or books by scientists such as Lynn Margulis and Eugene Koonin, who have studied and written extensively on horizontal gene transfer. These resources should provide a deeper understanding of this fascinating topic.

Related to Question Regarding Dawkins' The Blind Watchmaker

What is the main argument of Dawkins' The Blind Watchmaker?

The main argument of Richard Dawkins' The Blind Watchmaker is that the theory of natural selection, as proposed by Charles Darwin, is a sufficient explanation for the complexity and diversity of life on Earth.

Does Dawkins believe in a higher power or intelligent design?

No, Dawkins does not believe in a higher power or intelligent design. He argues that the appearance of design in nature can be explained through natural processes, rather than the intervention of a supernatural being.

What evidence does Dawkins use to support his argument?

Dawkins uses various examples from biology, such as the evolution of the eye and the development of complex behaviors, to demonstrate how natural selection can produce the appearance of design. He also discusses the flaws in arguments for intelligent design, such as irreducible complexity.

How does The Blind Watchmaker differ from other books on evolution?

The Blind Watchmaker focuses specifically on refuting the idea of intelligent design and providing evidence for natural selection as the driving force of evolution. It also delves into the philosophical implications of this theory, rather than just presenting scientific evidence.

Has The Blind Watchmaker been met with any criticism?

Yes, The Blind Watchmaker has faced criticism from those who disagree with Dawkins' views on religion and intelligent design. Some have also argued that Dawkins' use of analogies and metaphors can be confusing or misleading. However, the book remains a popular and influential work in the field of evolutionary biology.