display | more...
Richard Goldschmidt, an accomplished geneticist of the early twentieth century, argued that Darwin's idea of evolution via small, continuous changes might account for changes within a species (microevolution), but did not explain the appearance of new species or higher taxa (macroevolution). Rather, he argued, these new species and higher taxa result from drastic reorganizations of the entire genome. While the results of these reorganizations would almost always be monsters with no chance to survive, on rare occasions, they would would result in hopeful monsters. These hopeful monsters would then found new species.

While the genetic underpinnings imagined by Goldschmidt have been refuted by modern geneticists, the importance of large changes in evolution is still discussed by evolutionary biologists. For example, later formulations of punctuated equilibrium proposed that evolution has proceeded through large, discontinuous changes.

An illustrative and vivid example of this comes from the movie Godzilla. Admittedly a fictional example but some of the problems of hopeful monsters are considered. The story goes, that french nuclear testing in Muroura 'mutates' a lizard into a gigantic fire breathing creature. So far, so unlikely - but the important point is the sex of the creature. After lovable scientist Matthew Broderick determines that the creature is pregnant he makes the logical inference that it is asexual.

Why is this logical? Well, hopeful monsters - if they ever exist - are very unlikely to happen twice with conveniently one of each sex. So propagation of the new species would have to be asexually.

Obviously, giant lizards are a little too hopeful; but I don't see why "drastic reorganisation of the entire genome" are 'forbidden'. After all, humans and chimps have almost the same number of chromosomes - if (as may have been postulated) there was a double stranded break in one chromosome, mightn't that make us hopeful monsters? ("Probably not", is the answer -I'm sure the story of human evolution has more chapters).

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.