September 27, 2004 | David F. Coppedge

Big Pieces Missing in Darwin’s Theory, Says USC Scientist

A USC professor of gerontology has “explored a new way to look at aging that directly opposes principles set forth by Darwin in his theory of natural selection,” reports EurekAlert   (Emphasis added in all quotes).  Valter Longo’s theory of aging employs group selection instead of individual selection (see 05/31/2004 headline).  He thinks that in a population, individuals are programmed to die altruistically to conserve resources for the good of the group:

In research published in the Sept. 27 edition of the Journal of Cell Biology, Longo proposes that aging is programmed so that the majority of a population dies prematurely to provide nutrients for the sake of a few individuals who have acquired the genetic mutations that increase their chances of reproduction.

In his view, aging is programmed and altruistic, not due to chance.  Though his experiments were done with yeast, he thinks the principles could be applicable to humans, although “we don’t know whether it’s true yet or not,” he admits.

Longo said he realizes that this theory goes against the fundamental theories of evolution, which is why he took 10 years to publish, combing through scientific papers dating back to the 1870s to learn about the genesis of the theory of natural selection and speaking with prominent evolutionary biologists about his ideas.
    “I wanted them to tell me, ‘No, you’re wrong and here’s why.’  I never got that,” he said….
    “We’re not saying Darwin was wrong.  We’re just saying that there appear to be some big missing pieces in his theory,” Longo said.

Life is programmed, he says, but he does not yet know if death is programmed, too.

Sargent Williams, discipline Private Longo; he has stepped out of line (see 05/31/2004.  No disrespect for General Charlie is permitted.
    Longo’s story is the plot calling the prattle black, because his own hypothesis lacks genetic or developmental basis for tying an outward benefit to inheritance.  Like individual selection, it fails to explain how new information is added to the genome, and worse, it leaves hanging how a aging population would inform its young that wish to sacrifice themselves for the good of the species.  Haven’t they heard that grandparents provide an evolutionary benefit? (see 07/23/2004 headline).  So how can the grandparents transfer their wisdom if they commit hara kiri?
    This tall tale would be funny if its implications weren’t so dreadful: i.e., that evolution has programmed the elderly to drop dead so the young can have food enough to reproduce.  Anyway, it’s refreshing to see someone doubting Charlie, even if it took him a decade to work up the nerve.  In the end, however, it signifies little else than two storytellers accusing each other of not telling the whole story.  Little do they know how right they are on that point.

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Categories: Dumb Ideas

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