Wo-ho… Radio

August 18th, 2005

It may not be the best book that I’ve ever read, but it certainly inspired some thought and reactions. Darwin’s Radio by Greg Bear is certainly one of the most intriguing books that I’ve read recently. It delivers one future possibility that we may or may not discover to be true: maybe evolution doesn’t only occur through gradual steps. The book challenges the current paradigm by questioning our knowledge of evolution, and asking scientists to search for a more complete explanation of how we and other animals on this planet have evolved.

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The premise is based on the fact that our genome contains so-called “junk DNA”, which is not currently known to code for anything important (but they’re learning more and more about it every day).

Bear takes our current understanding of genetics and inheritance and turns it upside down. He intelligenly creates a world where global population level stress suddenly stimulates the junk in human DNA to switch on an alternate program. The chromosomes begin to reorganize, stimulated by stress homones and controlled by instructions on the junk, within the sex cells, leading to a new race of humans. A new sub-species is born in less than two years. Did the neandertals die in this same way? Were they pushed out by a sudden appearance of homo sapiens on the scene?

Darwin’s Radio seeks to bring new ideas about evolution into the ring. The scenario described in the book probably won’t be how our future plays out, but it does bring up the point that we don’t understand enough about genetics at this point to be able to presume that natural selection is the only force driving evolution. Not that Lamarck was right either, but maybe there are things that occur during our lifetimes that affect the sex cells in a directed manner as opposed to only driving random mutations. It is a question that should be addressed in a forum other than science fiction literature.

And, while I may have been a little disappointed in the way the book ended, I will be looking for the sequel in my local bookstore. I’m a sucker for interesting character development.

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