I am currently reading Evolution: the Modern Synthesis by Julian Huxley. He was the grandson of Thomas Henry Huxley (better known as Darwin’s Bulldog) and the brother of writer Aldous Huxley. What a family! I guess the discussions at their family gatherings were of a higher intellectual level compared to the Kardashians (although I guess this holds for most families).
The book was written in 1942, during the modern synthesis (hence the name of the book) when different biological disciplines, such as paleontology, genetics and systematics, were combined into an evolutionary framework. Although published in 1942, this book still contains relevant information on evolutionary biology. However, when it comes to genes, they were still trapped in a lot of speculation and some wrong ideas. For example, Huxley defines a gene as “a section of the chromosome between two adjacent sites of potential breakage at crossing-over (p.49).” We now know that such breaks in chromosomes contain numerous genes.
What I find striking is the comparison of genes with atomes: “Genes are in many ways as unitary as atoms.” But just like the physicists, biologists later discovered that genes are not the smallest units, but are composed of smaller sections, such as introns and exons. There are many possible parallels between physics and biology, but this week I discovered that they are even interacting and giving rise to entire new fields. On the brilliant BBC 4 radio show The Infinite Monkey Cage, physicist Jim Al-Khalili introduced Quantum Biology, the hybrid offspring of quantum mechanics and molecular biology. He recently wrote a book on this subject together with Johnjoe McFadden. I have added it to my to-read-list and I am curious about the implications and possible discoveries in this young field. Who knows what we may find! New insights that might lead us into a Brave New World.