Feature

Molecular Evolution

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

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9:19pm, October 16, 2010

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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