What is Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (EES)?

EES is a promising field, especially because it adds developmental biology, genomic evolution, and takes gene expression into account and combines that with Modern Synthesis. When I was YEC, I didn’t affirm evolution until I came across a few papers describing intentional evolution happening under the organism’s control, which really started my change from YEC to an evolutionary creationists. As the papers were giving factors that Modern Synthesis never gave merit to, that started my discovery of EES.

Developmental biology, genomic evolution, and gene expression were already a part of the Modern Synthesis. EES is just a rewording of the Modern Synthesis. Here is a decent article on EES and how most biologists view it as a repackaging of the Modern Synthesis.

What do you mean by “intentional evolution”?


True in some ways, but I would argue those fields are emphasized more in ESS than Modern Synthesis. I’m not a biologist though! :wink: A retired biologist/paleontologist introduced me to EES, and I’ve come to understand it as such (although I may be remembering incorrectly).

Some of the papers I read argued that mutations are not a random process, but rather are controlled by highly selective chemical inputs. The genome can then be treated not as a ROW system, but a read-write storage system. Maybe “intentional” is the wrong word, but when you contrast the traditional genome theory with what was proposed, because the genome can be influenced more easily by enzymes and other inputs such as environmental factors rather than “random” mutations (though random gene changes can happen as well).

As a thought, it might be helpful if the topic was split as to not disrupt the the OP’s discussion.

As Douglas Futuyma put it, “I think what we find emotionally or aesthetically more appealing is not the basis for science”.

Those are not mutually exclusive. Controlled and highly selective chemical inputs can still produce random mutations, and they do. All of the experiments I am aware of produce random mutations. The only examples I can think of for intentional evolution are the CRISPR systems in various species of bacteria.

One of the criticisms of EES is that it uses deceptive language to try and make conclusions that just aren’t supported by the actual data. “Intentional evolution” and “controlled and highly selective chemical inputs” are perfect examples of just that.

The result is still random mutations with respect to fitness, which is the definition used in the Modern Synthesis. The processes that produce mutations are blind to the needs of the organism. Those processes have no way of knowing if the mutations they produce will help or hurt the organism, or make no difference at all.

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Guess who’s funding EES?

It is true that the Modern Synthesis underemphasized certain areas, and newer discoveries have highlighted the role of previously unknown or neglected factors. The extreme enthusiasts for EES tend to underestimate what plain old population genetics over time can do. In part, it’s a matter of subjective judgement as to how big a change something is, Marshall, for example, claims that EES is Evolution 2.0; I think it is Evolution 1.374b.

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As with group, selection, there is no need for a paradigm shift. Never will be. EES has been with us for 70 years.

From the amazing Quanta article by Carl Zimmer that discusses the EES meeting from a while back:

Noble is one of the faces of EES, and I think this example shows how empty EES can be at times. They attach all of this confusing and wordy language to processes that are already well understood and standard parts of the modern theory.


I think of EES as basically a marketing term. It describes a disparate collection of evolutionary processes, not a synthesis of any kind. What unites the different processes is the desire of those who study them to get more attention (and hey, more funding, too) to their own process of interest. (That’s not a criticism – most scientists want more attention and funding for their favorite bit of science). Some of the processes (especially evo-devo) are vitally important and already have robust research programs dedicated to them. Others, like transgenerational epigenetic inheritance, are likely of little importance for evolution. But they do have a catchy name.

That sounds like James Shapiro, whom I don’t think of as being exactly in the EES camp – but maybe I’m mistaken. In any case, the general view of Shapiro is that he pointed out lots of interesting mutational processes but that none of them actually amounted to organisms rewriting their genomes to achieve some end, which is at least what it sounds like he was proposing. (Okay, maybe CRISPR should count as a genuinely read-write storage system.)

My thoughts exactly. If you are good at selling your ideas you can publish in higher impact journals and have a better shot at getting funded. I wish the science could stand on its own, but unfortunately that isn’t the world we live in. Subjectivity is going to raise its ugly head when you have 50 grant applications and only enough money to fund 5 of them.

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