From: Michael Ronayne
Location: Nutley, New Jersey
A recent research paper by Sean C. Lema and Gabrielle A. Nevitt suggests that some species of the desert pupfish are morphologically plastic and may exist in several forms depending on environmental factors such as temperature, water conditions and food availability. The paper is available here:
"Testing an ecophysiological mechanism of morphological plasticity in pupfish and its relevance to conservation efforts for endangered Devils Hole pupfish"
Sean C. Lema and Gabrielle A. Nevitt
J. Exp. Biol. 2006 209: 3499-3509.
Additional information can be found at the following web pages:
"Extreme environment changes fish appearance"
"WHAT MAKES DEVILS HOLE PUPFISH SPECIAL?"
If environmental factors can cause the Amargosa River pupfish (Cyprinodon nevadensis amargosae) to morph into a facsimile of the Devils Hole pupfish (Cyprinodon diabolis) and visa versa, an obvious question is: are the two species unique or are they two morphological manifestations of the same species? Are there other species which will do the same thing?
This is almost quantum biology, where one species can exist in two states depending on environmental factors. I am not sure that I would call this quantum evolution as the genetic coding for both forms is already present in the genome. This reminds me of the stories written by Hal Clement such as Cycle of Fire.
Nutley, New Jersey
p.s. I have the PDF if you want a copy.
From: Greg Bear
Many thanks, Michael! This is very interesting work indeed. We know about genetic plasticity in bacteria--and there have been strong hints in metazoans--multi-celled organisms. Plasticity in vertebrates might also be reflected in Lake Victoria cichlids, and is likely to be much more widespread than conventional thinking would lead us to believe. We respond to our environment in almost every other way imaginable--why not genetically? The mechanisms that could facilitate such change are being revealed right now. Epigenesis--the switching on or off of genes--is just one potential technique for phylogenetic change. Genes, as it turns out, are a small part of the information and "learned responses" encoded in DNA!
These pupfish, by the way, live close to my favorite desert town, Shoshone, California--and not far from the volcanic outcrop where I set the beginning of my novel, THE FORGE OF GOD.