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The Changing Face of Evolutionary Thinking

Genome Biology and Evolution
Oxford University Press
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1093/gbe/evt150
  • Book Review
  • Biology
  • Medicine


OP-GBEV130153 2006..2007 The Changing Face of Evolutionary Thinking Book Review Mutation-Driven Evolution by Masatoshi Nei. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. 244+ xi pp. $78.70 hb. Reviewed by Gu¨nter P. Wagner, Yale University In evolutionary biology, controversies, for whatever reason, never seem to die or be resolved; they fade away and can reemerge at any time. One of the oldest controversies in our field is that between selectionism and mutationism. It goes back at least to the beginning of the 20th century with Hugo de Vries being the best known proponent of the later deposed idea that mutations are the driving force of evolution. And now we have the book by Masatoshi Nei (2013) with the title Mutation-Driven Evolution. But what is remarkable is that the author is not someone from the fringes or even outside of evolutionary biology. The author is not even distant from pop- ulation genetics and the molecular study of evolution but is one of the founding fathers and pioneers of what is now called the field of molecular evolution. What did we miss in the meantime? Isn’t selection well studied and the well- established driver of adaptive evolutionary change? What if anything can be gained from reopening the gates to a cen- tury-old controversy we have thought to have faded away for good? Although old controversies fade away and reemerge, they also reemerge profoundly transformed, and it is likely this transformation to which one can attach one’s hope for prog- ress in science in spite of recurring themes appearing. While the old mutationism had many faces, described in Chapter 1 in Nei’s book, like the idea that single mutations are sufficient to create a new species. This idea was mostly due to a mis- understanding of what the nature of species is, in particular, in sexually reproducing species. The new mutationalism we en- counter in Masatoshi Nei’s book has a different face, and I want to dedicate the few lines of this re

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