Complexity and Symbiosis in Evolution: New Book Coming Out

Complexity and symbiosis
Complexity and symbiosis have played a significant role in the evolution of life on Earth. Author John Archibald describes the importance of both in a new book being published by Oxford University Press. The book, One Plus One Equals One, goes on sale in August of 2014.

Nancy Moran, a Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of Texas at Austin, has published an early book review in Nature. She describes how the new book by Archibald includes many examples of complexity and symbiosis that produced significant developments in evolution. Symbiosis can be thought of as an intimate association between two or more distinct species. The complexity of an ecosystem is partly the result of many symbiotic relationships among many species.

Consideration of complexity and symbiosis in evolutionary developments has been discussed in the academic community since the early part of the twentieth century. The term endosymbiosis was coined to describe symbiotic relationships among early cells that resulted in the establishment of a more complex cel. This occurs when two individual cells join together and become a new single cell that is different and more complex than the original cell, which is considered as an advance in evolution. The endosymbiotic theory was subsequently developed to encompass evolutionary events that established more complexity in organisms or ecosystems that resulted in evolutionary success. The idea suggests that some organisms develop through networking rather than combat.

The endosymbiotic theory has had a rocky road on the way to acceptance. It has been met with controversy, mainly because of the enthusiasm created by the neo-Darwinists in the 1970s for competition as the driving force for all evolutionary developments. Supporters of the endosymbiotic theory have, however, suggested that there may be more to evolution beyond competition and the popularized debates between Darwinists and Creationists.

Constantin Mereschkowsky is considered to be an early leader in understanding the importance of symbiosis. He famously pointed out how plants depend on “little green slaves” (i.e., chloroplasts) to survive and this mutually beneficial relationship among cells was the impetus for the evolution of larger and more complex organisms that became plants. This idea was developed further by Lynn Margulis, who, beginning in the 196os, spent her career exploring the importance of symbiosis, culminating with the publication of her seminal work, Symbiotic Planet: A New Look At Evolution, in 2008.

An interesting point raised by Moran in her early review of Archibald’s book is that the scientific community may move knowledge forward in a similar way to how smaller, earlier organisms on Earth moved life forward. The evolution of scientific knowledge occurs in a similar way to how the evolution of cells occurred. Moran pointed out that early organisms swapped and combined “biochemical inventions”, generating evolutionary breakthroughs. In a similar way, scientific disciplines exchange ideas and technologies to produce major breakthroughs. In her review, she stated, “One could venture that molecular biology did for evolutionary biology what chloroplasts did for the eukaryotic ancestor of plants.” This means that studying events on the level of molecular biology can provide lessons for the study of evolution overall. Archibald’s book adds to the understanding of complexity and symbiosis in evolution, demonstrating the very principle the book describes.

Opinion by Margaret Lutze

Oxford University Press

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