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A descriptive category for evolutionarily versatile

patterns of genetic and ontogenetic organization

by David G. King

Department of Anatomy and Department of Zoology

Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL 62901, U.S.A.

(Abstract published in 1985, Evolutionary Theory 7:222)


Traits which create potential for efficient adaptive evolution are shaped by selection acting at the "second tier," at the level of differential speciation and extinction among lineages.  Evolutionary versatility is not merely a fortuitous byproduct of certain adaptations.  A lineage whose genomic organization has permitted effective evolutionary change in the past can pass this capacity, with additional modifications, along to descendent branches.  One result of such selection has been a gradual refinement of mechanisms which influence the occurrence of viable hereditary variation, and hence the evolutionary acquisition by genomic information systems of an ability to facilitate their own evolutionary transformation.

"Metaptation" (from meta to change + aptation fitness) is offered as a name for evolved patterns of biological organization which promote evolutionary versatility by causing and constraining mutation and by ontogenetically accommodating to the consequences of mutation.  Many mechanisms for actively encouraging genetic variation are already known to exist.  Recognizing that such mechanisms have evolved for this role, selected on the basis of past contribution to evolutionary survival, offers a paradigm for investigating the nature of genetic and developmental function.  Evolutionarily useful transformations may be explicitly coded by variable genes or genetic regulatory sequences.  Organizational patterns which confer long term evolutionary versatility may be as sophisticated and as fundamental as the patterns which provide for immediate adaptive morphogenesis.

[Unpublished manuscript]

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Last updated:  21 November 2022