Darwinian Interlude

Yesterday I ordered a DNA testing kit through a company called 23andme.  In six weeks I’ll get a report with information about my genetic ancestry as well potential health risks and inheritable conditions.

Why, you ask?  Many smart people are predicting that this century’s scientific and technological advances will be in biogenetics and I want to get a head start. Besides, as my mother said when I asked her if the neighbor boy could teach me how to shoot a .22, knowledge is power.

In preparation for my test results I’ve been reading up on the future of biotechnology and found something interesting in an essay by Freeman Dyson on the topic of evolution.

Long before different kinds of fish began swimming around in the oceans, single cells that comprised the primordial soup were transferring genes horizontally. Meaning, advances made by the most efficient little creatures were shared to all, and life on earth made biological progress in unison. 

At some point, millions of years after the birth of this commune, some cells discovered privacy and refused to share. The offspring of the selfish cells became the first species. The relatively brief period that followed was full of different fish, reptiles and birds and is called The Darwinian Interlude. Dyson argues that human beings effectively ended the Darwinian Interlude, and by extension biological evolution, by dominating the biosphere.

What’s interesting to me is the comparison between information transfer over the internet (rapid and accessable to all) to the fluid sharing of genes among those primordial cells. If cultural evolution has replaced Darwinian evolution as Dyson suggests then the internet is the medium through which we will all advance together.