Energy, genes and evolution: introduction to an evolutionary synthesis
1Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, University College London, London, UK
2Institute of Molecular Evolution, Heinrich-Heine-Universität, Düsseldorf, Germany
3Division of Plant Science, University of Dundee at the James Hutton Institute, Dundee, UK
4School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, Queen Mary University of London, London, UK
Life is the harnessing of chemical energy in such a way that the energy-harnessing device makes a copy of itself. No energy, no evolution. The ‘modern synthesis’ of the past century explained evolution in terms of genes, but this is only part of the story. While the mechanisms of natural selection are correct, and increasingly well understood, they do little to explain the actual trajectories taken by life on Earth. From a cosmic perspective—what is the probability of life elsewhere in the Universe, and what are its probable traits?—a gene-based view of evolution says almost nothing. Irresistible geological and environmental changes affected eukaryotes and prokaryotes in very different ways, ones that do not relate to specific genes or niches. Questions such as the early emergence of life, the morphological and genomic constraints on prokaryotes, the singular origin of eukaryotes, and the unique and perplexing traits shared by all eukaryotes but not found in any prokaryote, are instead illuminated by bioenergetics. If nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution, nothing in evolution makes sense except in the light of energetics. This Special Issue of Philosophical Transactions examines the interplay between energy transduction and genome function in the major transitions of evolution, with implications ranging from planetary habitability to human health. We hope that these papers will contribute to a new evolutionary synthesis of energetics and genetics.
energy flow genomes mitochondria origin of life