Study of Evolution

From concept to a theory of evolution

The roots of concept that species change overtime has its beginning in the ideas of Chinese. Furthermore, ancient Greeks, Romans even medieval Islamic scientist also had their trials in the study of evolution. However, the first major breakthrough happened in 17th century, when studies of biological taxonomy began. It is when two opposite concepts were formed: first assured that characteristic of a species is unalterable, the second was an approach towards modern science, which came from studies of natural history and physical sciences. Along with naturalism, concept of extinction and the emergence in paleontology changed the view of nature. All that led to the first proposition of the theory of the transmutation of species, proposed by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck in late 19th century. It was the first fully formed theory of evolution, though it was still a long way from its modern look.

Fathers of evolution- Lamarck and Darwin

Study of evolution through natural selection

Not long after Lamarck’s proposition a young Cambridge graduate took a  survey voyage on BHMS Beagle during which he stopped in Galapagos archipelago. That journey gave him- now it is quite predictable that the man is Charles Darwin- a great idea. Later on along with Alfred Wallace he proposed a hypothesis that all species come from one ancestor. In 1859 he published “The Origin of Species”, that introduced evolution as a joint concept along with his thoughts on natural selection. Most scientists accepted evolution, though there was a lot of opposition from the public. Moreover, there were some proposition competing with his point of view. However, none of them explained diversity in life completely. After Darwin there was one step left towards modern thought.

Study of Evolution
The "Origin of Species" established that all species come from one ancestor

Evolutionary biology as a science

Twentieth century was a golden age for evolutionary studies. Firstly, Julian Huxley’s modern synthesis brought together genetics, ecology, systematics and paleontology. That helped establish evolutionary biology as a field in 1930s. In contrast, most universities did not have an evolutionary department until 1980s. However that did not stop the science from developing. As a result of huge increase in knowledge in microbiology, scientists started looking for evidences of evolution in microorganisms. Moreover, after the discovery of the DNA structure, genome analysis also contributed in the study of evolution. However, the architects of modern synthesis were skeptical about evolutionary thought developing that way, and seen it as a threat to the established laws. In the late twentieth century the most popular idea was the evolutionary developmental biology- field that compared development, evolution, and ancestral relationships between species.

Study of evolutionary biology

Subfields- evolution in many contexts

First subfields of evolutionary biology appeared in the twentieth century, though twenty first century brought new looks on study of evolution. Firstly, scientist now name two types of fields- micro-evolution and macro-evolution. The first one focuses on fluctuations within one population, the second- changes in entire species, and levels above. It is thought that macro-evolution is a result of mechanisms happening within micro-evolution, so we should not separate them from one another. Moreover, there are studies over extended evolutionary synthesis. There is also a lot of focus on evolution of the human species, from organelles to the entire populations. Last years also brought a lot of unconventional theories, for example one that says that the purpose of universe evolution was creating a human society (the Omega Point).

Study of Evolution
Evolutionary biology has many subfields, depending on how we look at the problem

What’s next- current and future study of evolution

Though the evolutionary thought has come a long way, and last centuries brought a fast development, there is still a lot left to discover. For example, some studies focus on description of origins, like the Cambrian Explosion. Most universities in the world have an evolutionary department, there is also a huge development on the popular-scientific ground. Study of evolution often links with other fields, for example sociobiology brings together sociology and evolution. There is a lot of space for other fusions or possibilities of creating complex models. Learning about evolution is studying our own origin, as well as describing mechanisms that still lead life. It can also be a very interesting journey, and thank you for taking it with me.

Author’s message

With this article we’ve come to the end of The Theory of Evolution series. I hope you learnt the basics about the theory. For further studies check out internal and external links, feel free to contact me if you have any questions. It’s been a great pleasure to share my passion with you, if you enjoyed reading it please share with family and friends.

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