Viruses aren't cunning, they're well evolved!

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Viruses aren't cunning, they're well evolved!
« on: 31/10/2010 14:30:07 »
conleyte asked the Naked Scientists:
It seems that in most cases when you discuss some genetic evolutionary process, the implication is often that there is some intent or perhaps even design to the evolutionary process. 

For example on the 24Oct show, the discussion of HIV called the virus "cunning" in how it steals from the host.  A couple of weeks before there was a discussion about a plant and how it interacts with the environment.  Here again the discussion seemed to imply the plant intentionally adapted to the behavior.
I am not complaining, just noting that I believe the wonder of evolution is that the things which survive and then thrive are not "cunning" or designed, they are simply the most efficient chemical biological processes.

For example drug resistance to antibiotics is not a "design" or "intention" of the bacteria, it is simply a chemical biological process that is not impacted by the drug and therefore easily replicated.
Perhaps I am putting to much into what I think I hear.  But it happens often enough that I simply chuckle as you describe the "intelligent design" of evolution, rather than the more likely Markov process that did not fall into the Styx.
Tim Conley
Huntingtown, MD, USA

What do you think?
« Last Edit: 31/10/2010 14:30:07 by _system »


Offline rosy

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Viruses aren't cunning, they're well evolved!
« Reply #1 on: 31/10/2010 15:32:52 »
This is a problem that arises a lot in discussing evolved systems. I would certainly agree with you that systems are not "designed"... actually I'd take issue with the idea that in general these evolved systems are even as you describe them "they are simply the most efficient chemical biological processes", they're just processes that happen to work well enough in a particular niche to be passed on to the next generation.

But in trying to explain how a particular evolved beneficial effect is promotes the survival of the organism without falling into the trap of occasionally referring to a "neat trick" or a "cunning" response is really very hard... especially when the time is not available to explain the random nature of genetic variation every time such a question comes up.

I'm not a TNS contributor, but I do know several of them (and if any of them is an ID proponent I'll eat my hat.. which is a cycle helmet).. and although my field isn't biology I've done enough science outreach myself to know just how hard it is never to use the slightly sloppy metaphors that are used all the time between my colleagues with the shared assumption that it's just a turn of phrase but which in a public forum may not help to dispel common misconceptions. Especially when asked a question live.