4 Helpful Metaphors for Evolution

(system) #1

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/guest/4-helpful-metaphors-for-evolution

(Randy) #2

Great, thank you. It looks like your website is also excellent. Thank you


After working in the field of molecular biology I really liked the magnetic stick-and-ball toy metaphor. I have often wondered how you could use magnets to illustrate how protein folding or RNA folding work. Understanding the physical nature of biology on the smallest scales is a really important aspect of understanding evolution. Of course, I am a bit biased, but it is nice to see this aspect of evolution being discussed.

(Phil) #4

There was a show last night on PBS featuring Steven Hawking that had a segment of putting shaped magnets in a vibrating machine and they would self assemble into balls and such to illustrate self assembly of molecules and how you could get order from chaos with the addition of energy from the vibrations.

(Andy Walsh) #5

I am glad to hear that metaphor made sense to someone with experience in molecular assembly and folding. My own training is in microbiology, so I tend to start from small scale thinking as well. I find evolution easier to think about if you don’t start by trying to imagine how to get from one vertebrate class or order to another.

(Andy Walsh) #6

Neat. I’ll have to see if I can find that program. Magnetic toys also inspired research on small-scale self-assembly: https://www.seas.harvard.edu/news/2010/01/using-magnetic-toys-researchers-tease-out-structures-self-assembled-clusters

(Phil) #7

It was on “Genius by Stephen Hawking”. Episode 105.


It would be really cool if there was a way of showing how alpha coils and beta sheets spontaneously form in proteins. I suppose there could be a way of using spaced magnets and Styrofoam balls attached on a semi-rigid string and have the magnets form the core of the alpha coil with the Styrofoam balls on the outside, but I don’t think it would be that easy to get just right. A DNA or RNA stem-loop would probably be much easier.


My background is in microbiology as well, so I get where you are coming from. I suspect that microbiologists would lean more towards Evo-Devo models than other fields of study since microbiologists are invested so heavily into the specific molecular pathways in bacteria, as well as the molecular pathways of bacterial hosts. The bringing together of molecular biologists, population biologists, anatomists, developmental biologists, and taxonomists is what really made the theory flourish.