Rethinking heredity to promote the inclusive evolutionary synthesis


Heredity can be defined as patterns of parent-offspring resemblance. It is a major factor of evolution by natural selection or drift. The mainstream vision of heredity tends to reduce heredity to the sole transmission of the DNA sequence. However, in the last 40 years, evidence has been accruing that parent-offspring resemblance also rests on other types of information that are not encoded in the DNA sequence ie that are not encoded in genes. In effect DNA sequence information is discovered as being far from being able to explain the whole complexity of life. Ironically this challenging of the mainstream vision resulted from the very success of that approach as it is the fantastic development of DNA sequencing technologies that revealed the limits of a gene-only vision of life. After a few definitions, I will present two diagrams that I suggest can help better understanding inheritance. I will then develop 3 general examples of nongenetic inheritance to illustrate the fact that it is pervasive, and the subtlety of nongenetic inheritance. The last example will present my own research on animal culture and its potential impact on evolution. Building on these examples, I will work at unifying these elements into what I call an ‘Inclusive Evolutionary Synthesis’ (IES) that would generalise the modern synthesis of evolution, with the ambition to encompass all dimensions of heredity, be they genetic or nongenetic. IES thus does not contradict the modern Synthesis of evolution but rather generalizes it with the ambition to better capture all the complexity of life. In the end I will quickly discuss the importance of nongenetic inheritance for evolution, conservation and medical sciences.

Date: 14 November 2017

Time: 15.45 hours

Speaker: Prof. Dr. Étienne Danchin, CNRS, Laboratoire Évolution & Diversité Biologique

Topic: Rethinking heredity to promote the inclusive evolutionary synthesis

Location: Room C623, W&N building VU Amsterdam