On the evolution of omicron…


Steve @glipsnort?



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It’s speculation on my part, but a non-human host does explain a lot.

A non-human host could have driven selection for different mutations than those that are being selected for in the human population. At some point, epistatic effects between many mutations allowed the virus to move back into the human population with the added advantage of partially evading existing adaptive immunity.


Interesting stuff. I was watching the Frontline show on PBS last night telling of the early days of Covid. Political stuff aside, it does make it seem more plausible that a similar scenario may have taken place in Wuhan leading to mutations that created the original outbreak.

On another note, the pandemic may well increase the awareness of the general public of how mutations and evolution works. It will be interesting to see if that translates into changes in the culture war debates.


Interesting article, Dale.
What keeps coming to my mind is the question whether the evolution of omicron (against the background of many, many other variations of COVID 19 with similar mutations that have NOT served their survival) could be a fine example of how the claims of “irreducible complexity” just ain’t necessarily so.

I understand that omicron is not depending on a specific structure made up of interlocking pieces, but it seems to be benefitting from just the right combination of mutations that have not been successful in different combinations elsewhere.

From this and other reporting I’ve read/heard, it sounds like the mutations are occuring in covid-19 “families” that are isolated from each other, rather than decendents, so they’re not just building on each other. And that they seem really random, rather than one mutation somehow being connected to another. But this random combination of mutations in omicron seems to cooperate in unique ways we don’t see elsewhere.

It seems to me that rather than something being irreducibly complex, enough random “shots on goal” has lead to survival and breeding success.

What do you all think?

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I would be endlessly grateful for any serious diminution of the culture wars. So many days feel like we’re just being eaten alive by it.


That seems like a good point, that multiple discrete mutations wind up ‘cooperating’ and yielding a unified complex overall result.

Omicron is pretty clearly an example of the kind of protein evolution that certain proponents of intelligent design have told us is statistically impossible – too many coordinated mutations required. Which would seem to leave us with a choice: was Omicron designed, or are the ID arguments wrong. I know which one I’d pick.

More generally, this does represent an issue that evolutionary biology has long grappled with: how evolution gets from one local fitness peak to another, when doing so requires going through a fitness valley to get there. One mechanism by which that can occur is probably what happened here, namely a change in the environment that altered the fitness landscape temporarily. Whether that changed environment was in an immune-compromised human or in some other animal host(*), it allowed the virus to explore mutational trajectories that would normally be closed off.

(*) I have no strong feelings about which is more likely. I’ve heard Kristian Anderson promote the animal idea in some zoom meeting or other, but he included the caveat that he’d promoted the same hypothesis about one of the earlier variants and been completely wrong.


It would be fantastic if the emergence of new COVID variants could somehow be used as a broader “teachable moment” to highlight the reality of viral evolution, but unfortunately there are already conspiracy theories out there for “launch dates” of various COVID variants. :man_facepalming:

Yes, it may. First, if people are perceptive, they will note that the equivocation in the use of the word “evolution.” In this case, “evolution” means that one covid virus changes into another covid virus, not “evolution” in the sense of “molecules to man” (or since Biologos folks differ from strict materialists in that they hold that God created life from non-life, so the least complex organism changes into a more complex organism. We need to make sure we do not call either viruses or single cell organisms “simple” as they are anything but.)

Next, if alert, they will note that viruses cannot exist apart from living cells and it is debated whether viruses even meet the criteria of “living.” So viruses cannot be “first life” as they are parasitic, dependent on living organisms, and so are a poor example to use for understanding molecules (or single celled life) evolving into multicellular life.

If people are perceptive, they will know that evolution is a change in allele frequencies in a population. That includes viruses, which really are simple. btw, Ken Ham himself proposes hyper-speciation after the animal-kinds left the ark, but doesn’t call it evolution even though what he describes is evolution.


Guess the answer to this is no…


Ah yes, the creationist name game. If we can call it the same thing before and after then no evolution occurred. Let’s see how that stands up, and see how much evolution you actually accept.

Humans and baboons are both primates, as was their common ancestor. It would seem that you accept this because it is primates turning into primates.

Humans and bears are both mammals, as was their common ancestor. It would seem that you accept this because it is mammals turning into mammals.

Humans and trout are both vertebrates, as was their common ancestor. It would seem that you accept this because it is vertebrates turning into vertebrates.

I could keep going, if you want.

No one is claiming that viruses were the first life.


Hey Fritzenheimer!
Hope you are well.
Can you give me the source of this image,please?

@cewoldt Therein lies the problem with the distinction between “microevolution” and “macroevolution.” In order for it to have any legitimacy whatsoever, you need to be able to identify where one ends and the other begins, and to identify some sort of mechanism that stops it from progressing from one to the other.

Because unless you are able to provide evidence for such a boundary, and for a mechanism that stops anything from crossing that boundary, you are just making things up.


Hi Kendel - I first saw it on Facebook, but found the link to it in this article.

Take care!

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Thanks, Fritzenheimer. The nonsense makes my head spin, and particularly in light of the pride with which people announce that the “Main Stream Media” can’t be trusted.

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