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A fallacious leap? Ancestral and derived traits

Posted on March 28, 2012 by James Kohl.

So far, I don’t think anyone has read my latest publication in its entirety, before commenting on what they think I don’t know or understand. After reading little more than 7 pages (10 with references), it should become clearer that I have simply incorporated the basic principles of biology and levels of biological organization required to link sensory cause and effect across species. See for example:  Feedback loops link odor and pheromone signaling with reproduction.

Nevertheless, a correspondent says I am making a fallacious leap from what is known about the ancestral state of odor-guided behavior in microbes to explanations of current state-dependent behaviors of other organisms. He argues that just because olfaction is an ancestral trait doesn’t mean all species use it. Different creatures may have derived other sensory modalities to navigate their social and non social environments. Thus, the notion of “ancestral” and “derived” traits may be central to understanding the evolution of behavior…or anything else.

I enjoy incorporating concepts that others think I don’t understand into responses that reflect my understanding – as I hope will be the case with the notion of ancestral and derived traits. Although I cannot force anyone to read my works, I remain hopeful that those who challenge me on the basis of their notions/assumptions will first learn what I know about the concepts they think they understand.

To those who first read my most recent work, it should also become clearer that a “fallacious leap” can be found in attempts by others to link the spectral senses directly to mammalian reproduction with no consideration either for evolved bottom-up organization or for top-down effects on the required gene, cell, tissue, organ, organ system pathway. For example, there is no scientific support for any derived notion/assumption that spectral input is involved in “…an ancestral recognition system that discriminates between self and non-self (whose function is expected to have been in sexual selection) was incorporated into the quality-control system for an evolutionary new discrimination system (using randomized receptor specificities) while retaining a function in sexual selection.” Simply put, self and non-self recognition is required for receptor mediated events in sexual selection and there is no ancestral need for input from the spectral senses.

In contrast, with the full scientific support of others, I offer the honeybee as a model organism that links the ancestral recognition system of microbes to the study of this derived “quality-control system” in the evolution of epigenetically altered receptor-mediated events in human immunity, disease resistance, allergic reaction, circadian rhythms, antibiotic resistance, the development of the brain and behavior, mental health, longevity, diseases of the X chromosome, learning and memory, as well as conditioned responses to sensory stimuli.

If my focus on the ancestral olfactory/pheromonal calibration, standardization, and the derived “quality-control system” of species-specific behaviors has caused me to miss something about the notion of “ancestral” and “derived” traits that is important to the evolution of human behavior, I will need some species-specific data on the derived relative incentive salience of spectral input compared to its ancestral role. Until then, I see the involvement of the spectral senses only as an adjunct in the context of understanding the evolution of reproductive sexual behavior…or anything else.

As I’ve already repeatedly indicated, claims that spectral input is more important to the evolved behavior of birds or fish continue to fall by the wayside as newer data consistently supports the ancestral olfactory/pheromonal model, which can be tracked back to its origins in brewer’s yeast, or more speculatively to its origins in other microbes where nutrient chemical-dependent calibrated reproduction is standardized and controlled by pheromones and quorum sensing.

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James Kohl
Retired medical laboratory scientist

James Kohl




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