Saturday, December 05, 2009

The Ubiquity of Exaptation

Over the early fall I read Stephen Jay Gould's book, Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes, which I found fascinating. One of the most interesting concepts he introduced was of exaptation. P.Z. Myers, at Pharyngula (The Ubiquity of Exaptation), has just written a very lucid explanation of how this concept can be used to explain the evolution of the nervous system from very simple cells. Gould's quick definition of the term (p. 171) is - "those useful structures that arose for other reasons or for no conventional reason at all, and were then fortuitously available for other usages, we call exaptations." A structure that evolved to suit one purpose then taking on another purpose is an exaptation.

I learned a lot from reading Gould's book, enough that I started reading another anthology of his articles, put together after his death, The Richness of Life: The Essential Stephen Jay Gould. I haven't finished it yet, because the semester intruded on my time to read, but I hope to get back to it soon.

I never took a college biology course, but when I read these books, and articles on science blogs, it makes me think that I would really enjoy doing so - perhaps one summer when I'm not feeling like doing much of my own research....

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