Evolving To Survive, The Mathematics Of Biology With Marcus Feldman

It was never the intention of Marcus Feldman to enter the field of evolutionary biology. In fact, he only wanted to do as much of mathematics as he could. Whenever, he had doubt though he would imagine becoming a psychiatrist but never in his wildest dreams could he have predicted his interest in genetics.

Feldman is what you would call a polymath. Having lectured for 46 years at the Standford University, his work stacked up looks as follows – epidemiology of tuberculosis, origins of behavior disorders and how humans overcame Neanderthals. Not the most typical of thesis papers and formulas you would find on the desk of a mathematician.

Because of his uncanny inclination towards biology and his zeal to quantify genetic theories using mathematical equations, he came in contact with likeminded unorthodox colleagues from various fields who together proposed the EES or Extended Evolutionary Synthesis. According to EES, while modern evolutionary theories are sound in their observation, they do not take into account epigenetics or the effect of external stimuli such as pesticides on gene expressions. Even though such exposures do not actually affect the genes, they nevertheless cause behavioral and physical changes that then natural selection can begin to act upon.

In an interview with Marcus Feldman, astronomer, blogger and author at Zozanga, he says that behavior and culture too play an important role in evolution. Take for instance Prairie dogs who don’t just make burrows but also spend time guarding them. These Prairie dogs end up getting more mates. This is not genetically coded but rather a behavioral anomaly.

The fact that EES is a model makes it all the more interesting. Mathematically derived, EES shows many other predictions. For instance, the growth of Lactase tolerant genes in humans. Not everyone can have milk but it was seen that places where cows were used for their milk, this gene had a higher prevalence and as the practice swept across the globe, the Lactase tolerant genes too began to circulate. This is more in response to a change in culture or rather behavior of a society instead of natural selection and sexual reproduction.

Another example Feldman gives in support of the EES is antibody resistant bacteria. When parents took their kids for anything and everything to the doctors and the doctors prescribed antibiotics, the bacterial population began to morph. Those that resisted the antibiotics naturally had genes that were resilient. Other bacteria gradually began developing a similar resilient gene. This antibiotic resistance is the cause of humans and not nature.

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