Chapter 11: The Meaning of It All

1.  What is Shubin’s biological “law of everything” and why is it so important?

      Shubin’s biological “law of everything” is that every living thing on Earth has parents and this law is so important because it is one true law that everyone can agree upon.  More specifically, every living organism comes from parental genetic information.  Every organism has parents—humans, mice, birds, plants, even bacteria!  This allows scientists and taxonomy experts to hypothesize parental lineages as this law “defines parenthood in a way that gets to the actual biological mechanism of heredity and allows us to apply it to creatures like bacteria that do not reproduce the way we do” (Shubin 174).  This law can also be extended to imply that we are not only just descendent of our parents, we are modified descendents.  For example, a baby salamander is descended from its parents, but is not identical to them.  This pattern of descent with modification defines an organism’s family lineages and, more importantly, is the undeniable “law of everything” (Shubin 174).

2.  What is the author trying to show with his “Bozo” example?

      By incorporating the “Bozo example” in his text, Shubin is able to accurately explain to his readers how descent with modification can be used to create hypothesized family lineages by unlocking biological history.  Here is the direct text regarding the “Bozo example”:

“Let’s take a hypothetical humorless, quite unclown-like couple who have children.  One of their sons was born with a genetic mutation that gave him a red rubber nose that squeaks.  This son grows up and marries a lucky woman.  He passes his mutated nose gene to his children, and they all have his red rubber nose that squeaks.  Now, suppose one of his offspring gets a mutation that causes him to have huge floppy feet.  When this mutation passes to the next generation, all of his children are like him: they have a red rubber nose that squeaks and huge floppy feet.  When this mutation passes to the next generation, all of his children are like him: they have a red rubber nose that squeaks and huge floppy feet.  Go one generation further.  Imagine that one of these kids…has another mutation: orange curly hair.  When this mutation passes to the next generation, all of his children will have orange curly hair, a rubber nose that squeaks, and giant floppy feet…” (Shubin 175).

      This example perfectly shows how descent with modification can be used to construct a family tree.  “Like a nested set of Russian dolls, our hypothetical lineage formed groups within groups, which we recognize by their unique features” (Shubin 176).  The key physical characteristics (squeaky nose, floppy feet, and orange hair) allow you to recognize the groupings or generations, and their pattern of descent.  However, moving in the opposite direction, where did the Bozo family lineage begin?  Do the bozos stop at the original couple?  Of course not.  But where exactly did the bozos originate?  Everyone agrees that their lineages can be traced back to ancient ancestors; however, the real question is: who were the first ancestors?  This is why decent with modification and family trees are important.  They allow us to trace back and hypothesize about ancient family relatives by analyzing derived characteristics of organisms.

Here is a family tree to show the succession of characteristics in the Bozo family: (Shubin 176)


3.  This chapter includes many examples of disease that show how humans are products of a lengthy and convoluted evolutionary history.  Choose three (3) of the problems listed below and briefly explain how ancient ancestors’ traits still “haunt” us:

  • Obesity
  • Heart disease
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Sleep apnea
  • Hiccups
  • Hernias
  • Mitochondrial diseases

Obesity: Obesity has become one of the leading causes of death in humans today and much of it is due to the fact that humans have a body for an active animal; however, we now have a lifestyle of a lazy couch potato.  In 1962, James Neel suggested that “human ancestors were adapted for a boom-bust existence” (Shubin 187).  He believed that our ancestors were hunters and gatherers that constantly undergo a cycle of feast and famine, and this led to increased rates of obesity.  As our bodies were made to store food for times of need.  This leads to obesity as humans eat excessive amounts of food, but there are no periods of famine to use up the saved fat (energy), causing humans to then become overweight. 
Heart Disease: Heart disease is a disease that is stimulated by obesity.  Therefore, heart disease is so prevalent in our society due to the increased rates of obesity.  (See explanation above as to how obesity came about in society). 
Hemorrhoids: Hemorrhoids have appeared in our society today because our circulatory system was created for active animals.  The human heart is used to pump blood throughout the body via veins, arteries, and capillaries.  The blood is pumped away from the heart by the arteries and the blood is pumped back to the heart by the veins.  Now, there is one issue with pumping the blood back to the veins.  The pressure is quite low since the veins are so far away from the heart, making it difficult for blood to travel in the direction from feet to chest.  Thus, to help the blood travel through veins, we have little valves that prevent blood from traveling back down to our feet.  We also help circulate blood back to the heart by contracting our leg muscles.  Yet, this system only works well with ACTIVE animals.  Therefore, during long periods of sitting, blood pools in the veins around the rectum causing Hemorrhoids to form.

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  1. I think this chapter would have been a great first or second chapter actually, because it seems to explain to the non-scientist natural selection. the Bozo example illustrates the concept of accumulation of mutations that contribute to creating an apparently very different organism compared to ancestors of millions of years ago. But because of the “Law of Everything” these apparently different species share a great deal of genetic material. Hence, our Inner Fish.
    The issue of relating common human health problems to evolution is compelling. If people better understood evolution, i.e., their inner fish, they might better manage their health issues. Maybe.
    When quoting an entire paragraph, indent as a block quote. Your tool bar has that option.
    It’s also OK to delete phrases,and replace with . . . to shorten the quote. For example,
    “. . . take a hypothetical . . . unclown-like couple who have children.” ML

  2. I agree with Mrs. LeFever, this would have been a good introduction to the book. The evidence Shubin shows is fascinating and logical. However, I wonder if there are any evolutionary trends that are not well-known that are left out because they detract from Shubin’s argument.

    • Excellent thinking regarding possibility of omission! When I first started reading that sentence, I thought it was headed to I wonder if he left out other trends because it would be too much for the non-scientist to take in. ML

  3. ngjenny

     /  May 1, 2012

    The philosophical conceptualization of the mere fact that we have parents is a foundation for people’s understanding of evolution as a integral aspect of the existence of life on earth. Shubin’s explanation using the Bozo family is very relatable.


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