Gene Level Evolution
Traits, in general, are imprinted on genes - Gene Level Evolution introduction. However, Richard Dawkins, in his book, ‘Selfish Gene’ illuminates the fact that humans are very special and interesting species for they know or discovered that traits can be changed and manipulated to their advantage. To this degree, Dawkins argued that every species has a specific set of genes but these genes can be modified with respect to how they are reared or how they grew up, such as the case of the group Hymenoptera. The basic theme of Dawkins’ work focused on individual/gene level evolution and not to a species level evolution which is a prominent theory during Dawkins’ time.
Evolution as identified in Dawkins’ book relates to the process of change in the genetic make-up of an individual. Species on the other hand is a distinct individual in a family or a group. Genes composed the traits and characteristics of the individual and consist of the natural framework of an individual. An individual is a sole organism that belongs to a particular species with a specific set of genes that are related with those that belongs to the same species.
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To illustrate the theme, it is important to note that Dawkins used ESS or Evolutionary Stable Strategy theory which is popularized by Price to demonstrate the Strategies which different individuals might actually and hypothetically do in certain cases to be able to succeed in the game of survival. Dawkins somehow managed to take the evolution process into the gene-level through an explanation of why people tend to think that it is actually ‘at the species level’. He concedes that it is actually a ‘survival of the stable’ for which an organism managed to live and populate into a group and survived for so many years. He tries to demonstrate that in reality there are instances that prove that things ought to be stable –his examples ranges from rounded shape of water in space and the helix formation of nucleotides into DNA.
The role of DNA is vital in the book and its primary theme. The author further tries to link the concept of gene with the basic principle of ‘survival of the fittest’ which dominates Darwin’s theory of evolution. Dawkins illustrate how everything else comes from a single set of DNA or nucleotides which forms, develops and mutates into something else to be able to survive. The new sets of genes have a ‘machine’ or a ‘body’ which reproduce and pass on the ‘survival gene’.
]The author further described that there seems to be an antagonism towards other gene groups and gene machines. This is due to the fact that other gene machines are seen as opponents. Gene machines and individuals belonging to the same group tend to develop closer ties because they share a commonality for which the whole group depends for survival.
Cannibalism becomes rare and defeating rivals becomes a primary goal. The survival of a gene lies on cooperation within the species. Since a gene can only survive longer if it is passed on the next generation. Subtle changes on genes are also passed on to the offspring. Dawkins elaborated the fact that an individual, in relation to his/her gene has the same ‘relatedness’ to an offspring or a sibling. Taking these into consideration, the individual tends to protect or feel closer and care for those that are related to him/her. Such fact only presuppose the theme discussed above- that the evolutionary process actually take place in the gene level.
Dawkins discussed that one of the purpose of the book is to become an eye-opener for those who are misguided by a plethora of popular beliefs regarding the statement that ‘groups of animals evolved for the sake of the whole group’. Accordingly, there are indeed instances when individual’s forms groups like penguins moving closer to others to keep each other warmed. Nonetheless, a closer look will prove that such action actually implies that the individual only wants to protect itself since being alone consumes more heat and present a greater body surface to cold. This illustration is directed towards portraying the ‘selfish gene’ and also works to show how much living things are programmed by genes to exhaust other organisms resources to be able to save oneself and in the long run or as a consequence, also managed to save the others..
The turning point of the book seems to be the discussion of Memes as the new replicators. Memes concerns culture. Culture is something that has developed through human interaction and language. However, memes are not only confined to humans but to animals as well. Memes are not entirely about having culture, Dawkins reiterated that memes also includes tunes, clothing, fashion, etc. Thus, memes are particularly not genetic. Memes are cultural and develops inter-socially among the member of the group. The mere presence of groups in the species already correlates the fact that there are differences that exist even within the species.
Humans for instance are so divided by nationality that war and sacrifices and altruistic acts of patriots and heroes happen. On the other hand abortion within and across borders are considered by many as unacceptable while recreational hunts and killing are not only favoured but are at times even encouraged. Dawkins used memes to try to explain that beliefs and/or culture of a group are passed on to the next generation not thru genetic modification but through learning and adaptation.
This is not only found in humans but are also present in saddleback birds and other animals. There are certain variation of interpretation and presentation of memes from one time to another rooted to several factors such as diseases, technology, and global changes. Like genes, memes undergo survival and the process takes toll on the utility, quality and popularity of the memes. Humans not only developed through the survival of their genes but through the abundance of memes passed on the individual.
Thus, for the whole species to survive, the fittest genes and memes must be replicated. While memes are not genetic, they sure affect the individuals’ thinking. Genetic level means individual level of evolution. It does not only refer to the genes per se but to the process that certain changes in the genes and memes to the next generation happens because changes are present in the individual.
The genes dictates the brain what to do and how to react. An important attribute of the brain is to process information –such as memes. Dawkins further assert that immortality can be achieved by reproduction –thus, passing on genes, or through memes. While genes are not replicated entirely, memes are not only replicated but are also utilized. Immortality of memes remains as long as ideas and contribution of the individual to culture are present.
Evolution happens in the genetic level. The species is composed of so many groups and sub-groups that are all moving towards survival. The competition that is present makes species evolution questionable in the sense that selfishness happens to promote the interest of a single group. At times, the group does not try to survive for the whole species but only for themselves or for their group. In the gene level, changes happen that are unrelated to the species as a whole but are experienced by the individual. Memes also changes and act like genes. Only, genes undergo passing genetic material/s while memes are cultural materials.
Dawkins, R. The Selfish Gene. Oxford University Press. (1989).