Discussion Board

Topic: Darwin's Radio

From: Ken Dalton
Location: Ottawa, Canada
Date: 08/30/2006

Hi Mr. Bear
I've just finished Darwin's Radio and I thought it was great science fiction. I have a B. Sc. in Biology and often put down sci-fi books half unread because of biological nonsense that I read. Not so with Darwin's Radio! It was well researched and I think sticks to the known facts. Sure it goes beyond known science, with evolution being controlled by a virus, but after all, it is fiction.
It was a great story, had great characters and had good science. Keep it up Mr. Bear, I'll start looking for Darwin's Children (the sequel, right?) ASAP.

Ken

Re: Darwin's Radio

From: Greg Bear
Date: 08/31/2006

Thanks, Ken! After eight years or so, I'm pleased to say that the biology in DARWIN'S RADIO is still current and cutting-edge. (And ERVs do play a substantial role in development--so is evolution next?)

Re: Darwin's Radio

From: Daniel Assange
Location: Victoria, Australia
Date: 09/12/2006

Hello there! On the subject of biological developments, I'd just like to point out an article I read recently which immediately reminded me of Darwin's Radio!: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn10054-why-viral-stowaways-are-a-babys-best-friend.html

Personally I think it's quite neat how ERVs assist in defending against other invaders-- I think one way to look at it is as parasites 'upgrading' themselves to a symbiotic relationship with the host, which is more evolutionarily advantageous for both of them. I'm a biology student, and I must say your book and its sequel were quite inspiring, and well-researched. I had very few qualms with the science (although the conclusions were naturally very far-fetched)!

Keep up the good work,
- Daniel.

Re: Darwin's Radio

From: Greg Bear
Date: 09/12/2006

Thanks, Daniel! I can't open most science magazines without finding similar astounding bits of news. Biology is crackling with change!

Re: Darwin's Radio

From: Ken Dalton
Location: Ottawa, Canada
Date: 09/13/2006

Now that I've thought about it more, the science that Darwin's Radio reminds me of is something I discussed in my biology honours thesis, phenotypic plasticity. This is an interesting phenomenom, that the same genotype, in different environments, will produce very distinctive phenotypes.
It's like separating twins and raising them in completely different places and ending up with two completely different adults, each suited for the environment they were raised in.
That might make an interesting project for you Daniel, maybe even a Masters or Ph.D. thesis.

Re: Darwin's Radio

From: Greg Bear
Date: 09/14/2006

Epigenesis could be where it's at! How to regulate and alter phenotype without changing the genetic code...

Re: Darwin's Radio

From: Ken Dalton
Location: Ottawa, Canada
Date: 09/17/2006

Epigenesis is a very intersting topic and probably includes "phenotypic plasticity" as well as "gene regulation". Google those Greg and you'll probably be set for your next sci-fi novel.

Re: Darwin's Radio

From: Greg Bear
Date: 09/18/2006

Could take me right back to one of the early quasi-inspirations for DARWIN'S RADIO, Larry Niven's PROTECTOR. Humans as early-stage life-forms which, when mature, become very different beings... Highly recommended!

Re: Darwin's Radio

From: Ken Dalton
Location: Ottawa, Canada
Date: 09/20/2006

Larry Niven's PROTECTOR? I'll look around for it for sure.
Incidentally, there is a very interesting article about ERVs in the latest NewScientist, see
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn10054-why-viral-stowaways-are-a-babys-best-friend.html
.
It seems they have been with us for a very long time.

Re: Darwin's Radio

From: Greg Bear
Date: 09/21/2006

Do a search on HERV and Luis P. Villarreal and you'll find some fascinating pieces posted by this eminent UCI virologist. Many twists and turns in the virus saga! I was recently interviewed by French documentary filmmakers, and their work is now finished: a film by Jean Crepu and Ali Saib called "Dr. Virus and Mr. Hyde," which explores the ways in which viruses can be useful. Recommended!

Re: Darwin's Radio

From: Denyse D
Location: UK
Date: 10/29/2006

I've just finished Darwins radio and thoroughly enjoyed it. I was a bit perplexed by the a the lepar nigger comment made by kaye in the supermarket towards the end. I nearly picked up this novel when i was pregnant back in 2002 and i'm quite relieved i didn't, lol. Darwins children is definatley next on my reading list. Thanx Greg

Re: Darwin's Radio

From: Greg Bear
Date: 10/30/2006

Thanks for writing, Denyse! DARWIN'S CHILDREN expand upon the problems of discrimination facing the virus children and their parents--which Kaye is both sensing and anticipating when she makes this outburst.

Re: Darwin's Radio

From: John Vester
Location: Rancho Cordova, California
Date: 02/16/2007

As an interested reader though not formally educated in biology, can someone tell me if Epigenesis or "phenotypic plasticity" is what metamorphosis is? Ive often wondered how one genotype could produce two such distinct phenotypes.

The Darwin books by Mr. Bear are wonderful, and make me wish I had studied more biology.

Re: Darwin's Radio

From: Greg Bear
Date: 02/17/2007

Thanks for writing, John! Epigenesis is an amazing conceptual addition to our knowledge of evolution--that one's organism's genomic sequence can be the same as another's, but because of the control of certain genes, shutting them on or off or moderating their output, phenotype can be distinctly altered. And these traits can be passed on--inherited. Once inherited, they can also then be turned off--switchable traits, when and how they are switched determined most likely by environmental factors. This is part of the genetic toolbox I discuss in my novels--though, unfortunately, I didn't quite get around to talking about epigenesis!

Re: Darwin's Radio

From: John Vester
Location: Rancho Cordova, California
Date: 02/18/2007

Thanks for responding!

Is this the effect that causes serious changes in domesticated pigs, for example, when they go feral? Does it indicate that environmemntal stress is the cause? Or is it something more subtle? Can you cite an example, or a reference? This is facinating. Lends some support to saltationism, I would think.

Thanks for the great books, AND the chance to "talk" with you directly. The new tehnology has some real benfits (although I imagine you sometimes wonder about that as you face piles and piles of fan "letters").

Re: Darwin's Radio

From: Greg Bear
Date: 02/18/2007

Over generations, I suspect feral pigs undergo permanent changes of gene expression--but then, so do athletes! Do feral pigs breed true with so-called feral traits? Whether these would qualify as epigenetic or not, I don't know. Better example would be daphnia babies--water fleas--acquiring much heavier armor in the presence of predatorial larvae, maintaining it for generations until the threat passes. Very likely this is epigenetic.

Re: Darwin's Radio

From: John Vester
Location: Rancho Cordova, California
Date: 02/18/2007

Interesting, as is all of this. I just read your essay on the new biology and I have to agree, though on purely subjective grounds, that the one gene-one protein Central Dogma must find a place on the trash heap of history (am I being too harsh?).

I have never been able to understand how organisms can become so perfectly tailored in shape to their environmental and behavioral niches. How can there be any survival penalty if one's fin is not exactly perfect (absolutely perfect) for swimming? And if there is no penalty, why do we see species being so homogenous in form?

Epigensis and phenotypic plasticity make a bit more sense than the slow gradualism beloved of Dawkins, et al. What we need now is some communication between the environment and the active ingredients of this new view, so changes are directed by environment somehow. Perhaps stress?

If this all pans out as you are suggesting, maybe Mr. Lamarck should be rehabilitated some?

Thanks for the stimulating read and the resulting pleasant discussion.

By the way, have you read Matt Ridley's "Genome?" I found it to be one of the most mind boggling reads I can remember. His new book, "The Agile Gene," (which I am reading now) expands on a topic Genome suggested....that it is not "nature vs. nurture", but "nature through nurture." Right up your alley, I'd guess. People may argue about the meaning of it all, but the people researching what genes do and how they do it, are probably moving us closer to the truth than all the speculation ever can. Of course, I don't have to tell you that.

Thanks again.

Re: Darwin's Radio

From: Greg Bear
Date: 02/19/2007

Actually, the Central Dogma was DNA begets RNA begets protein, and never the reverse. That's been dead for decades now, but it's still taught as a rule of thumb--a very bruised thumb. As I researched DARWIN'S RADIO, I kept finding amazing facts that flew directly in the face of random gradualism and the traditional mechanisms proposed for evolution. What struck me most of all was how an aristocracy of established thinkers could blithely ignore or explain away these inconvenient truths. And perhaps most disturbing of all, the suggestion from these same quarters that disagreement with these theories would aid and abet the enemies of science! Back in the late 1990s, it seemed best to throw all I had found into a work of closely researched and reasoned speculation (with a few outrageous bits as spice) and slip it under the radar. The reception has been very gratifying--especially from biologists who have told me, over and over again, that they never knew many of these facts. They had been buried in journals for decades, the secret treasure trove of bacteriology, virology, botany, and molecular genetics. Now, they're front-line, out in the open--but the war is from from over. A lot of reputations are at stake.

Re: Darwin's Radio

From: John Vester
Location: Rancho Cordova, California
Date: 02/20/2007

Greg

In looking into "epigenesis" I found some very interesting stuff in Wikepedia. In case you have not seen this, it appears that "epigenetics" is of real interest, above epigenesis, in your discussions.

Epigenesis is everything, beyond the genetic code, that makes cells differentiate. If there were no epigenesis, then cloning from a skin cell would be imposible, because the cell started from is already differentiated.

But epigenetics is, in addition, the study of any phenotypic changes inheritable from one generation to the next, such as methylation of DNA (see fragile X syndrome).

Boy, have you stared me on a quest to learn more!

Thanks!

Re: Darwin's Radio

From: Greg Bear
Date: 02/21/2007

Thanks, John. I'm referring to changes in genetic expression beyond base pair sequence. Epigenetics is the proper word.

Re: Darwin's Radio

From: Clint
Location: Jones County
Date: 07/17/2008

I am looking for a test for Darwin's Radio to issue to students. Does anyone have any information that would be helpful?

Re: Darwin's Radio

From: Greg Bear
Date: 07/17/2008

Any leads for Clint's class, readers?

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