BIO-Complexity, Vol 2018

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Evolution's Waiting-Time Problem and Suggested Ways to Overcome It--A Critical Survey

James C LeMaster


In recent decades, severe waiting-time challenges have emerged for explanations of complex biological change within the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis. Theorists continue to propose natural mechanisms which purportedly shorten these waiting times, but do the arguments for these improvements take account of all relevant factors? Here we consider four proposed mechanisms for rapid evolution: symbiogenesis, the action of transposable elements, horizontal gene transfer, and the use of alternative evolutionary pathways. In all four cases we find that the claimed evolutionary benefit fails to take all aspects of the proposal into consideration. On the other hand, when laboratory processes analogous to evolution benefit from the teleological insights of the experimenters, we find that time no longer poses an insurmountable obstacle. By extension, it seems reasonable to propose teleology as the solution to biology’s waiting-time problem.

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