The Yin and Yang of Evolution

It is interesting how modern molecular genomics turns to symbols of Eastern philosophy to explain their findings (see previous posts on the Wheel of Synthetic Life). In this recent article the authors use the Yin-Yang symbol to represent the duality between a Web of Life (WOL) and a Tree of Life (TOL). The traditional view of Darwin’s theory of evolution was: descent from a common origin represented by a hierarchical tree (TOL).

The results from recent genomics has shown that inheritance of genetic material has frequently occurred in a horizontal manner resulting in a web-like structure (WOL). The authors feel the most productive way to move forward is create a duality between the horizontal transfers that shape evolution and those that confound the tree building algorithms. The point is that neither of these extremes invalidates the other; they complement each other.

Their paper is provocatively entitled: Save the tree of life or get lost in the woods. (The paper itself is on the technical side and not written for the popular press.)