Biology X | Heredity and Evolution | Evolution by Stages

Evolution by Stages

A question that arises here is – if complicated organs, such as the eye, are selected for the advantage they provide, how can they be generated by a single DNA change? Surely such complex organs will be created

bit-by-bit over generations? But how can each intermediate change be selected for? There are a number of possible explanations. Even an intermediate stage (Fig. 9.11), such as a rudimentary eye, can be useful to some extent. This might be enough to give a fitness advantage. In fact, the eye – like the wing – seems to be a very popular adaptation. Insects have them, so does an octopus, and so do vertebrates. And the structure of the eye in each of these organisms is different – enough for them to have separate evolutionary origins.

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Also, a change that is useful for one property to start with can become useful later for quite a different function. Feathers, for example, can start out as providing insulation in cold weather (Fig. 9.12). But later, they might become useful for flight. In fact, some dinosaurs had feathers, although they could not fly using the feathers. Birds seem to have later adapted the feathers to flight. This, of course, means that birds are very closely related to reptiles, since dinosaurs were reptiles!

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Biology X | Heredity and Evolution | Fossils

Fossils

Such studies of organ structure can be done not only on current species, but also on species that are no longer alive. How do we know that these extinct species ever existed? We know this from finding fossils (Fig. 9.10). What are fossils? Usually, when organisms die, their bodies will decompose and be lost. But every once in a while, the body or at least some parts may be in an environment that does not let it decompose completely. If a dead insect gets caught in hot mud, for example, it will not decompose quickly, and the mud will eventually harden and retain the impression of the body parts of the insect. All such preserved traces of living organisms are called fossils.

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