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Biosystems. 2003 Oct;71(3):297-303.

Physical law not natural selection as the major determinant of biological complexity in the subcellular realm: new support for the pre-Darwinian conception of evolution by natural law.

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Biochemistry Department, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand.


Before Darwin many biologists considered organic forms to be immutable natural forms or types which like inorganic forms such as atoms or crystals are part of a changeless world order and determined by physical law. Adaptations were viewed as secondary modifications of these 'crystal like' abstract afunctional 'givens of physics.' We argue here that much of the emerging picture of biological order in the subcellular realm resembles closely the pre-Darwinian conception of nature. We point out that in the subcellular realm, between nano and micrometers, physical law necessarily plays a far more significant role in organizing matter than in the familiar 'Darwinian world' between millimeters and meters (where matter can be arranged into almost any contingent artifactual arrangement we choose, as witness Lego toys, watches or jumbo jets). Consequently, when deploying matter into complex structures in the subcellular realm the cell must necessarily make extensive use of natural forms-such as the protein and RNA folds, microtubular forms and tensegrity structures-which like atoms or crystals self-organize under the direction of physical law into what are essentially 'pre-Darwinian' afunctional abstract molecular architectures in which adaptations are trivial secondary modifications of what are evidently primary givens of physics.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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