Nick Matzke and Mesk made comments in several threads yesterday [Feb. 21] about how "information about the environment" is encoded in genomes. This set me to thinking (look out!) about how positively Lamarckian that sounds, even as used in purely defensive terms against objections to the current theory's arbitrary restrictions on adaptive "information" and its actual origin.
Matzke readily admits that life forms (and their genomes) "closely match" – are adapted to – their environments. I doubt that many biologists would dispute this, not even Richard Dawkins, who admits that life "looks designed." The issues revolve around how life acquired the appearance of design.
The currently favored model is Neodarwinism, simplified to the mechanisms of random mutation and natural selection [RM-NS]. Darwin himself favored a more Lamarckian version of variation (mutation) called "pangenesis," and Herbert Spencer was a positive Lamarckian. Neo-Lamarckism was very popular among American scientists at the turn of the twentieth century, and served as one of the philosophical underpinnings of 'scientific eugenics' in its positive forms. It has survived in a number of evolutionary models among dissident scientists chafing under the spiked bridle of "Darwinian Orthodoxy" as discoveries pile up suggesting strongly that not all genes are acquired by random mutation in old genes, that expression can be enhanced or suppressed by epigenetic processes, and that the good ol' Weismann barrier – which was proposed as means to prevent somatic genome developments from crossing into germline cells – is non-existent in cases where the acquired genes come with attached promoters.
In other words, Neodarwinism positively asserts that the living environment – and adaptations to that environment by life forms during their experience of life – has absolutely no relevance to the genomic complement of following generations. Adaptive mutations must be present in the organism when it is born, only later to prove useful as determined by selection criteria in the environment. Thus a white rabbit who escapes wolves in winter because it is white, will survive to produce lots and lots of mutant white baby bunnies, until eventually all the snow rabbits are white. The whiteness was a genomic "error" during the process gametogenesis or recombination, and only later turned out to be pertinent to environmental adaptation. So long as there's snow, white rabbits will live longer and have more babies than brown rabbits. Rabbits who change their color according to the season also are presumed to have been accidental to a single lucky mutant in the past.
In Neodarwinism, the external (environmental) influence on development is irrelevant to evolution. Yet Weismann, whose 'barrier' to inheritance of somatic traits was deemed to be so important to Neodarwinism, was like Darwin a Neo-Lamarckian. From Ryuichi Matsuda: Exerpts -
As this work abundantly shows, environmentally acquired characters can become heritable through the process of genetic assimilation, without requiring the reversal of genetic transcription and translation. Weismann found, with regard to the climatic influence, that when the pupae of the German form of a lycaenid butterfly Polymmatus phlaeas was exposed to much higher temperatures, none of the emerged adults resembled the darkest form of southern variety eleus. Further, a reverse experiment was made by subjecting caterpillars of the Naples form to very low temperature in rearing. The result was that none was as light colored as the ordinary German form. From these results Weismann concluded that German and Naples forms are constitutionally (genetically) distinct. Weismann (1892, p.401) said, 'A somatogenic character is not inherited in this case, but the modifying influence–temperature–affects the primary constituents of the wings in each individual, i.e. a part of the soma–as well as germplasm contained in the germ of animals.' Weismann (1892, p. 405) even went so far so to say, "In many animals and plants influences of temperature and environment may very possibly produce hereditary variations." Thus contrary to the prevailing belief, Weismann was a neo-Lamarckist, as Darwin was.
Operative verb: produce. Matsuda cites himself  -
"It has now become clear that neo-Lamarckism has always been a reasonable theory, and it has stood the test of time for more than a century. Once some misunderstandings and inhibitions are removed, the theory can be regarded as a more complete theory (than neo-Darwinism) in that it analyses the evolutionary process in terms of both the proximate and ultimate mechanisms, and in that it is especially suited for analyzing the origin of macroevolutionary change. Through the analysis of the proximate process we come to know the cause of variation and the presumed initial stage of evolution of the structures upon which natural selection has worked. In traditional neo-Darwinism natural selection is considered to be involved throughout the whole evolutionary process (of structures), which is indeed untrue, as Mivart (1871) already knew. In practice obvious cases of overextension of the theory of natural selection, which actually results from neglect of the proximate process, have often been criticized in terms of their falsifiability. Yet the critics have never offered a solution for this dilemma. Indeed, evolutionary biology has been in a state of constipation caused by the neo-Darwinian constraint that inhibits exploration of the proximate process of evolution. It should now be realized that such a worry will be over once we accept the neo-Lamarckian approach. The application of the neo-Lamarkian analysis appears to resolve some outstanding problems and riddles in evolutionary biology.
The latest odd assertions from notable defenders of Neodarwinian "Orthodoxy" appear to be appealing to Neo-Lamarckian suppositions once again to get around the "outstanding problems and riddles" in evolutionary biology. At least, to insist on a cause-effect relationship between environment and form/function that is reflected in genomes directly, not just in selective terms. This seems to me to be an interesting development.
For further information and views, see:
Evidence of Lamarck's theory in Neuropsychology Literature
Are retrogenes changing Darwin's Natural Selection Paradigm?