The Molecular Basis of Evolution

By Christian B. Anfinsen | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
THE SUBSTRUCTURE OF GENES

As we pointed out in Chapter 1, most evolutionists feel that all levels of evolution can be interpreted in terms of a single basic process, the natural selection of organisms whose phenotypes have been modified in some favorable way by gene mutation. During the earliest stages of evolutionary development, the sudden appearance of new genes must have been a frequent and important occurrence. However, it is, perhaps, not too heretic to suggest that the major proportion of evolution has been the result of a continual process of modification, and integration into new systems of organization, of genetic potentialities already present in our extremely distant ancestors. (We shall consider the evidence for the antiquity of some of our own genes in a later chapter.) Although evolution of the sort undergone by the Gryphaea (page 7) is generally referred to as microevolution, such a process is many orders of magnitude more complex than the process that can be demonstrated in favorable test objects like bacteriophages. With bacteriophage we may detect "ultramicroevolutionary" changes caused by even extremely infrequent single-gene mutations. The morphology and general physiology of these most elementary "organisms" are discussed in the following pages, together with a consideration of the progress of "fine

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