MIT Media Lab, E14-633
One of the main principles of classical Darwinian evolution is that the genotype, which instructs the phenotype, undergoes random changes, and those changes that give rise to fit phenotypes at a given environment are selected for. According to the Lamarckian alternative, organisms can pass on characteristics that they acquired during their lifetime to their offspring in a process known as heritability of acquired traits, or "soft inheritance." In some of these cases the phenotype is partially inherited and may even be feed back into the genotype. While originally dismissed as non-feasible, Lamarckian evolution now appears more and more in biological systems ranging from microbes to mammals, and molecular mechanisms that might realize this mode of inheritance are being elucidated. Epigenetics, a set of means to propagate a phenotypic change across generations, appears to provide a set of feasible molecular means that may realize Lamarckism. In addition, several mechanisms exist which may allow the phenotype to instruct the genotype at a given environment. Yitzhak Pilpel will survey these recent advances in molecular evolution and present realistic means to engineer Lamarckian organisms in the lab which might possess improved evolvability.
Yitzhak Pilpel is a professor of biochemistry in the department of molecular genetics at the Weizmann Institute of Science.
Host/Chair: Center for Bits and Atoms