Blackwell Publishing

The rise of evolutionary biology - What is evolution?


Evolutionary biology

Evolutionary biology is a large science, and is growing larger. A list of its various subject areas could sound rather daunting.

Evolutionary biologists now carry out research in some sciences, like molecular genetics, that are young and move rapidly, and in others like morphology and embryology that have accumulated their discoveries at a more stately speed over a much longer period.

Evolutionary biologists work with materials as diverse as naked chemicals in test tubes (as shown opposite from a Harvard laboratory), animal behavior in the jungle, and fossils collected from barren and inhospitable rocks.

However, a beautifully simple and easily understood idea - evolution by natural selection - can be scientifically tested in all these fields. It is one of the most powerful ideas in all science, and is the only theory that can seriously claim to unify biology. It can give meaning to facts from the invisible world in a drop of rain water, or from the many colored delights of a botanic garden, or thundering herds of big game. The theory is also used to understand such topics as the geochemistry of life's origins and the gaseous proportions of the modern atmosphere.

As Theodosius Dobzhansky, one of the 20th century's most eminent evolutionary biologists, remarked in an often quoted but scarcely exaggerated phrase,

"nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution"

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