April 19, 2012
to be posted on silentnursery.com and nobabies.net

Felicity C. Jones
Department of Developmental Biology
Beckman Center B300
Stanford University School of Medicine
Stanford, California 94305

Dear Felicity Jones:
I read with interest your article (Felicity C. Jones et al The Genomic Basis or Adaptive Evolution in Three Sticklebacks, NATURE vol. 484 no. 7392 April 5, 2012 page 46) (and I admit I had help from the review by Hopi Hoekstra in the same issue as well the review in SCIENCE vol. 336 no. 6055 page 17) and got so excited I wrote a comment to NATURE, which is unlikely to see the world beyond the editor’s circular file, so I thought I would send you this copy.

The article Felicity C. Jones  et al The Genomic Basis or Adaptive Evolution in Three Sticklebacks, NATURE vol. 484 no. 7392 April 5, 2012 page 46 I find breathtaking. 

On the one side there is a large stack of evidence (On the Regulation of Populations of Mammals, Birds, Fish and Insects, Richard M. Sibly, Daniel Barker, Michael C. Denham, Jim Hope and Mark Pagel SCIENCE vol. 309 July 22, 2005 page 609, An Association between Kinship and Fertility of Human Couples Agnar Helgason et al. SCIENCE vol. 329 no. 5864 February 8, 2008 page 813 – 816, Human Fertility Increases with marital radius. Rodrigo Labourian and Antonio Amorim.  GENETICS volume 178 January 2008 page 603 and Comment on “An Association Between the Kinship and Fertility of Human Couples,” Rodrigo Labouriau and António Amorim SCIENCE vol. 322, page 1634b December 12, 2008 or intance) in humans and in animals showing that, absent extreme inbreeding, fertility falls off with kinship according to a distinct patter.  Choice can be ignored in animals had has been specifically investigated and rejected in humans.  This infertility starts to occur with in such a small number of generations that it cannot be genetic.  So the stack leans toward an epigenetic mechanism.

On the other side there is a large stack of evidence (gapminder.com for instance) that developed countries are in reproductive crisis; few rich countries make enough babies to survive the long run.  Throughout almost all of history, almost everybody married moderately close kin.  This has been abandoned, most conspicuously in the rich world and this coincides with pathological levels of infertility.  So the stack leans toward infertility because of lack of kinship.

The article you just published almost sets the keystone, but not quite.  It attributes speciation to epigenetic effects, to control mechanisms in sticklebacks more than to gene mutations.  Speciation equals reproductive isolation equals infertile crosses. 

But the word “epigenetic” covers a host of sins.  The epigenetic process seen in populations is so fast it is probably due to methylation or other similar chemical variants.  The epigenetic process described in the Jones paper is in on-coding DNA, presumably just about as slow as gene mutations.  But the paper does much to close the gap. 

When it is close, maybe somebody will string the whole thing together.  We have long thought we were controlling our fertility by sexual choices, contraception or whatever.  This, according to the first Labourian paper, is apparently delusional.  But once that gap in our chain is closed, there will be for the first time be a rational and effective strategy for regulating fertility, which means getting the right number of babies, and all that babies do including grow up and become adults who do everything adults do.

M. Linton Herbert MD. 

End letter to NATURE

I thought you might be interested.  Let me know how you feel about it.


M. Linton Herbert MD 



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