Proteins are molecules of superb design. The chance of a purely random
process arriving at any one of them is less than the chance of rolling 300
sixes in succession. We have thousands of these superbly designed molecules
coded for in our DNA.
Evolution is able to happen faster than we might otherwise have thought
possible. The mechanisms of change in DNA are themselves subject to change.
This has a profound effect on the evolutionary process. Evolution benefits
from indirectly acting genes.
Molecular biologists are familiar with the observation that when under stress,
bacteria evolve to have extra copies of selected genes. This effect, 'gene
amplification' is in fact part of an evolved, complex, general purpose mechanism
for rapid adaptation.
A mathematical view of evolution compares the problem of optimising a genome
to that of finding the highest point on a landscape by taking small steps.
This view has some value, but it also obscures a great deal, for there is
structure in the 'evolution landscape' that is not well visualised with a 3D
Some problems in evolution seem so fundamental that 'merely speeding up' evolution
would not seem to be enough. The problems often present as well evolved designs for
which there is no obvious less evolved intermediate that would be functional.
Possible solutions for some examples, such as evolution of 'the first cell',
The 'Baldwin Effect' is an accepted mechanism that accelerates evolution.
It works by 'smoothing' the evolutionary landscape. The design of the genetic
code also gives a smoother evolutionary landscape and is similarly important
in the rapidity of evolution.
Historically much evolution has occured through recombination of existing
designs rather than through other kinds of random change. Mechanisms that
smooth the process of gene recombination with selection are evident.
Streamlined mechanisms include the mechanism for gene fusion by which more
economical versions of multi-enzyme complexes are created.