Journal Article

Molecular Darwinism: The Contingency of Spontaneous Genetic Variation

Werner Arber

in Genome Biology and Evolution

Published on behalf of Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution

Volume 3, issue , pages 1090-1092
Published in print January 2011 |
Published online October 2011 | e-ISSN: 1759-6653 | DOI:

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  • Bioinformatics and Computational Biology
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Genetics and Genomics


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The availability of spontaneously occurring genetic variants is an important driving force of biological evolution. Largely thanks to experimental investigations by microbial geneticists, we know today that several different molecular mechanisms contribute to the overall genetic variations. These mechanisms can be assigned to three natural strategies to generate genetic variants: 1) local sequence changes, 2) intragenomic reshuffling of DNA segments, and 3) acquisition of a segment of foreign DNA. In these processes, specific gene products are involved in cooperation with different nongenetic elements. Some genetic variations occur fully at random along the DNA filaments, others rather with a statistical reproducibility, although at many possible sites. We have to be aware that evolution in natural ecosystems is of higher complexity than under most laboratory conditions, not at least in view of symbiotic associations and the occurrence of horizontal gene transfer. The encountered contingency of genetic variation can possibly best ensure a long-term persistence of life under steadily changing living conditions.

Keywords: evolution genes; molecular mechanisms of variation; natural strategies of variation; variation generator; modulator of rates of variation; systemic aspects of evolution

Journal Article.  1900 words. 

Subjects: Bioinformatics and Computational Biology ; Evolutionary Biology ; Genetics and Genomics

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