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Molecular Evolution

Investigating the genetic books of life reveals new details of 'descent with modification' and the forces driving it

Charles Darwin didn’t know about genes and DNA. In fact, hardly anyone noticed when Gregor Mendel, a monk whose pea experiments eventually led to modern genetics, published his findings in an obscure journal a few years after Darwin’s On the Origin of Species appeared in 1859. It would take nearly a century more before James Watson and Francis Crick deciphered the structure of DNA, the molecule that contains the manual for building an organism. Yet Darwin was still able to describe a mechanism — natural selection — for how evolution shapes life on Earth. That’s like describing how a car works without knowing about the existence of internal combustion engines.

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