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"Polygenesis" – Doubly but not Triply, True
by Alexander Mebane

This Greek word originally denoted the hypothesis that all life has descended from more than one original ancestral species--as was proposed by Lamarck and denied by Darwin.  We have recently  discovered (Doolittle, 2000) that, even for the simplest microbes, Darwin’s "monogenesis" turns out to be impossible to verify.  Of course, that fiasco doesn't mean that any evolutionist has now begun to take seriously Lamarck’s old postulate of "a vast multitude of radically different original ancestors"—even though, in fact, such "polygenesis" has always seemed to be clearly displayed in the fossil record, with its many sudden onsets of distinct new higher taxa, apparently unconnected with older ones, (Lamarck had imagined all of the original ancestors as being, like Darwin’s single one, simple unicellular “germs” of different types (see "Alternative III for this)—a fancy soon shot down by the fossil evidence.  The "independent original ancestors" seen in the fossil record are already complex organisms.)

In the case of human "evolution", the term "polygenesis" has been used in a more restricted sense; the hypothesis that the races of Homo sapiens have sprung from separate origins, as endorsed by Agassiz (1857), Coon (1962), and most recently by Wolpoff and Caspari under the name of "multiregionalisin" (Race &Human Evolution, 1997).  This has in its favor the a-priori consideration that the creator of a new species would hardly be so negligent as to entrust its success to the hazards of only a single founding colony: (s)he would surely take care to introduce it in several widely-separated locations. (In contrast, a naturally-generated species could arise in only one place: here, Darwinism agrees with the Bible.)  Current genetic evidence (and, needless to say, current sentiment) here favors "monogenesis”: that racial differences have emerged only secondarily, as local varietal forms of a species that spread from its African origin all over the world.  Thus, human “polygenesis" is now thought by most researchers to be an erroneous picture.

Here, however, I will venture to apply the term “polygenesis" to a much more limited but far more radical hypothesis: to wit, that (as a general rule) every new species has derived some of its genes from more than one immediate parent" species, in gross violation of pure genealogy--or even natural hybridization, since these multiple gene-contributors need not be at all closely related.  This is the situation that Doolittle's researchers were shocked to find to be the normal one in the microbes they studied, giving rise to a genetic network instead of the expected Darwinian "tree".  In view of the failure of genealogical taxonomy (Disc. 5), it seems highly probable that similar gene-tracing will reveal that just the same sort of genetic net-work, from "polygenetic parentage" is present in higher organisms as well.

We seem to observe a clear example of that state of affairs in our own species, Homo sapiens var. eloquens (or necator), in which Elaine Morgan (Descent of the Child, 1995) has pointed out more than twenty conspicuous human features that are not present in our closest genealogical relative, the bonobo or "pygmy chimpanzee"--some of them (such as the descended larynx and our naked skin with subcutaneous fat layer) not present in any other land-dwelling animal!  How did we come to possess these strikingly non-apish physical traits?  Morgan, assuming purely-natural gene-acquisition, reasonably enough infers that we must have had an "aquatic ape” as ancestor; unfortunately, since all of these anomalous characteristics are "soft-tissue" features that don't fossilize, we can never hope to learn at what point in our (quasi-) ancestral sequence they actually made their appearance.  Those who like to think of themselves as "ape/angel hybrids" are thus free to believe, if they wish, that all of them were simultaneously given to Homo sapiens only about 40,000 years ago (as Diamond has suggested in the case of the descended larynx), when "modern" (CroMagnon) man seems to have first emerged. (But what a curious sort of "aquatic angel" that non-apish gene-donor must have been!)

Another such case may have occurred quite long ago in our (quasi-)ancestral lineage, since it now looks as though the first Homo (ca. 2.3 Myrs ago) may have acquired only some of his skeletal features from Australopithecus africanus as “parent",  others (such as longer legs) seem to come from an older species, A. afarensis ("Lucy"). (Discover 1/99, p. 81.)

Another seems to have taken place in the production of the first mammals, which contained features that seem to come from two different "ancestral" groups of mammal-like reptiles.  And remember the two pandas, which both possess the curious "sesamoid thumb", although genealogically unrelated!

Now (surprisingly enough) this non-genealogical gene-transfer can actually be seen to occur "naturally" in microbes: unfortunately for us, an antibiotic-resistant bacterium is capable of donating a copy of its resistance-gene, wrapped up in a “plasmid", to one of a quite different genus!  But for multi-cellular organisms like us, such a "horizontal" (i.e., non-genealogical) natural gene-transfer process would be impossible.[1] If, nevertheless, polygenesis has almost "typically" been involved in the births of new species-genomes, we have to infer that those genomes must have been assembled artificially.

[1] Unless carried in by a nucleus-penetrating virus-which can sometimes occur accidentally, and is now being used deliberately by our genetic surgeons to endow a cell's DNA with a desired new gene. (An original-genome designer would presumably have been able to put together desired gene-assemblages in more direct fashion.)

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