By Rizki Nurdiansyah, M.Si.

Faculty of BioInformatics 

In the 19th century, Charles Darwin formulated the evolution theory by natural selection in his book “On the Origin of Species”. Popularly known as the theory that theorizes the origin of man and “Darwinism”, it caused an uproar in the world at that time. But essentially, the theory itself may not the same as you think. It actually leads the biological research into a very interesting part of life.

The theory was based on Darwin’s observation during his expedition with HMS Beagle, in a 5 years trip around the world. It represents the process and results in the adaptation of an organism to its environment by selectively reproducing changes in its “blueprint” or genotype. Those variations in the genotype will increase an organism’s chance of survival from generation to generation and can be observed in morphological, biochemical, and genetic traits in each generation. Furthermore, shared sets of those traits may demonstrate relationship, the formation of new species, changes within species, and loss of species throughout history. In the end, evolutionary processes give rise to biodiversity in every biological level, from molecular to biosphere.

He also reconstructed the “tree of life” or phylogenetic tree to account historical development and present distribution of species. Think of it like a family history tree but instead of a small royal family, it consists of many species on earth. Initially, Darwin posited a triple branching of his “tree of life” according to the of land, air, and water. Some species found persisted or adapted to other two elements. Even though it usually reconstructed with the molecular evidence right now (not by land, air, and water anymore), this family history still explains why whales are not categorized as fish and bats are not categorized as birds. Phylogenetic tree carries important pieces of information about the evolutionary relationship and properties between many species.

So, what’s the deal about it? Interestingly enough as it is, the theory makes scientist think that even there are a lot of differences in life, they always come from somewhere, sometime, and for some reason. And then they think, can we trace them back? Can we infer the reason for the similarity or the differences? The field of evolutionary biology is the front to answer all of that. It uses Darwin’s theory as one of the basis and comes up with interesting results every day. It found out the origin of some species; persisting genes which found across species; horizontal gene transfers; and so on. The impact of it ranging not only biological field, such as ecological and biomedical research, but also nonbiological fields such as engineering, computer sciences, and even the criminal justice system.

With the current advance in the technology, we can collect, analyze, and publish data easier and cheaper than ever. More and more interesting pieces of evidence emerge and emphasizing the need for evolutionary biology. All of them circle back to what Darwin discovered, the needs of adapting and survive. If he does not discover and dare to publish it, we may not see that interesting part of life.

References:
Britannica, T. E. (2018, January 31). Natural selection. Retrieved July 11, 2018, from https://www.britannica.com/science/natural-selection
Garamszegi, L. Z. (2016). Modern Phylogenetic Comparative Methods and Their Application in Evolutionary Biology Concepts and Practice. Berlin: Springer Berlin.
Hellström, N. P. (2012). Darwin and the Tree of Life: The roots of the evolutionary tree. Archives of Natural History,39(2), 234-252. doi:10.3366/anh.2012.0092
Shanahan, T. (2004). The evolution of Darwinism: Selection, adaptation, and progress in evolutionary biology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Losos, J. B., Arnold, S. J., Bejerano, G., Brodie, E. D., Hibbett, D., Hoekstra, H. E., . . . Turner, T. L. (2013). Evolutionary Biology for the 21st Century. PLoS Biology, 11(1). doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001466