Such expressions as that famous one of Linnæus, and which we often meet with in a more or less concealed form, that the characters do not make the genus, but that the genus gives the characters, seem to imply that something more is included in our classification, than mere resemblance. I believe that something more is included; and that propinquity of descent,—the only known cause of the similarity of organic beings,—is the bond, hidden as it is by various degrees of modification, which is partially revealed to us by our classifications (Darwin, 1859, p. 413f).

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Phylogeology – A New Revolution in Phylogenetics

From the Wollongong Herald

Evolutionary biologists were stunned this week by the news of Geological Phylogenetics. "Genetics is dead" says geologist Prof. Trevor Bruce of the University of Ulladulla, Australia. For 20 years molecular DNA has changed the way biologists do phylogenetics. Geological Phylogenetics, or Phylogeology, proposes to dispense with biological data all together. Prof. Bruce explains, "Molecular systematics has removed any notion of morphology, anatomy and taxonomy. We intend to get rid of molecules, making phylogenetics essentially free of any biological data". The benefits of phylogeology are that only atoms will be analyzed. "All you need is a very large industrial-strength food processor and a mass spectrometer". Prof Bruce's team has successfully pureed an array of organisms including two pot plants, a goldfish and Dr. Hall's cat. "She wasn't too happy about it, so we made her first author" says Prof. Bruce. "So far we have analyzed percentages of 30 common elements including carbon, calcium iron and copper". And success! Already Prof. Bruce's team has the data for most common household pets and their relationships. "It's simple" explains Dr. Hall, "a dog and a cat will have a similar atomic make-up, just like two similar rocks. As genetics has brought its methods and theory into phylogenetics, we bring geological techniques. Pureeing and 'mass-specing' critters are one of them".

But phylogeology has its critics. Molecular systematists have dismissed Dr Hall's contribution. "DNA and molecular data is the basic unit of heredity. Nothing can replace it" say Drs Goodray and Frat. "Rubbish!" retorts Prof. Bruce, "molecular data is fraught with paralogy, xenology and dodgy alignment. They may be dealing with a 'basic unit of heredity', but we are dealing with the basic unit of all matter". Already new applications have been proposed. "Forget DNA Barcoding, now we have 'Tricording' – a way to measure all matter within an organism" says Dr. Hall. The proposal has lead large funding bodies to drop proposals for DNA research. The NSF, NERC and other national grants are excited by phylogeology. "Finally we can get rid of that expensive out-of-date DNA mumbo-jumbo. Now we can categorize phylogenetics as organic chemistry" says Dr. Komby of the Research Funding Board. "Imagine how much money we'll save, not sequencing data, getting rid of the Tree of Life (AToL) and all other biological systematic projects. This heralds a new age in evolution".

'Darwin Year', marked by the 200th anniversary of the father of evolution, represents a new era of development - from the biological toward the physical sciences. "Biology is simply stamp-collecting" remarks Prof. Bruce, "we're better off working out how the origin of the cosmos has shaped life on Earth". Even creationists have responded to Prof. Bruce's call. "This is the end of evolution" states Mark McCall, Director of the DIY Creationist Center, Kansas, "This new development disproves life altogether". Phylogeology has already made an impact on financiers who understand its cost-effective nature. Investors, like Arnold Grady, are beaming, "Considering that the technology behind food processors is rapidly evolving, we could puree, say a dog, in five seconds and have it mass-speced in ten. I'd buy into that".

Biology may be on its last legs, but what of the bird-watcher or fish-fancier? We ask amateur fish breeder Allan Cement, "They are fish, not atoms! Can't scientists just study them?"

Malte C. Ebach


Crawford Tillinghast said...

And now, Phenetics has joined the Texas Chainsaw Massacre! Seriously, It is rubbish. The basis of Evolution IS heredity. Evolution = changes passed through generations via heredity mechanisms. Even horizontally acquired genes are later spread vertically.

Two obvious flaws (but I am sure there are lots more) of this presented method are:
1) It cannot discern between "life" and inanimate things. Based on atomic composition, one can simply compare, say, a meteorite, with, any life form. It is phenetics in a cosmic scale!
2) Again, heredity. Are all the molecules that compound an organism strictly heritable? Obviously not! And what about the microorganisms in the skin of an animal, its parasites, intestinal bacteria, etc? Will they be processed and analyzed altogether? Think of a four letters word: b-i-a-s.

It seems phenetics can not be just buried. One needs to shoot its head and burn it, in order to prevent its zombie to rise up again!

Roberto Keller said...

I disagree with Crawford Tillinghast. Before, using our primitive twenty-century molecular phylogenetic methods, we could only classify things with DNA in them. With phylogeology we can finally fulfill Linnaeus' dream by tackling the question of the relationships between his three original kingdoms: Animal, Vegetal and Mineral. Phylogeology may prove to be the final unifying methods in taxonomy.

Crawford Tillinghast said...

Actually, it is overall (biased) similarity comparison, which characterizes phenetics.
Anyhow, the whole thing seems absurd!
Try searching Google for "University of Ulladulla" and "Trevor Bruce".
I think this post was a delayed "April fools joke" by Malte Ebach!

Gustavo A. Ballen said...

Is this a joke, isn't it?