Symbiosis, lateral function transfer and the (many) saplings of life

Biology and Philosophy 24 (4):623-641 (2010)
One of intuitions driving the acceptance of a neat structured tree of life is the assumption that organisms and the lineages they form have somewhat stable spatial and temporal boundaries. The phenomenon of symbiosis shows us that such ‘fixist’ assumptions does not correspond to how the natural world actually works. The implications of lateral gene transfer (LGT) have been discussed elsewhere; I wish to stress a related point. I will focus on lateral function transfer (LFT) and will argue, using examples of what many would call ‘superorganisms’, that the emergence of symbiotic individuals revives the importance of functional and adaptationist thinking in how we conceptualize the lineages of biological individuals. The consequence of the argument is that, if we really want to hold onto tree of life thinking, we had better accept that new saplings appear and disappear all the time.
Keywords Philosophy   Evolutionary Biology   Philosophy of Biology
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DOI 10.1007/s10539-010-9209-3
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