Nature editorial staff on uncommon descent

"By the time the 200th birthday of On the Origin of Species is celebrated, [...] life [...] may well no longer be united by common ancestry"

Next year we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of what is arguably the most influential work in biology: Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species. The twin pillars of common descent and natural selection explain both the unity and the diversity of life as we know it on Earth. The subsequent discovery, forty years ago, that the genetic material is universal supported and vindicated Darwin's theory in much the same way, and with just as much impact, as Galileo's observations bolstered the Copernican theory of heliocentricity.

However, as pointed out in an Editorial in this week's Nature, classical Darwinism does not explain or even predict how life began. With the increasing likelihood of being able to create 'artificial' life, and the remote but finite possibility that within our lifetime we might discover life on other planets, uncommon descent might tell us how life originated on Earth, how different life might be on other planets, and maybe even how widespread and common it is in our Universe. Far from being a 'theory in crisis', evolution by the 'simple and awe-inspiring algorithms' of natural selection still has the potential to further amaze and enlighten us.

The entire piece is available freely at Nature.

- Contributed by Richard P. Grant