The concept of "primitive" is one that is very often misunderstood.
Properly defined, "primitive" means "more like a particular ancestor", refers only to individual characteristics (not whole species or lineages), and is contrasted with "derived" (not "advanced" or "more evolved").
I have covered this and other misunderstandings of evolutionary concepts in various articles and I try to clarify these in my courses. But the intuitive interpretation in which one species is deemed more primitive than another is very hard to shake, including in the scientific literature.
As I have explained in various blog posts and in this paper
, it is a fallacy to assume that any one character found in a so-called "primitive" species alive today was also found in the ancestral species. All living species are modern species, and "primitive" vs. "derived" refers to characters, not whole species.
Anyway, New Scientist
seems to have fallen for this in their interpretation of a recent paper.
Bellyflopping frogs shed light on evolution
John Mattick, University of Queensland, is one of the leading proponents of the idea that much -- perhaps most
-- of the human genome is functional. He has been making claims along these lines for at least 15 years
, but seems to always present it as a new idea. Readers of this blog may also remember the Dog's Ass Plot
included in one of his publications.
For the past year, I have been working with several colleagues to completely redesign our first year biology program at the University of Guelph. One of the aspects of the new "Discovering Biodiversity" course (which complements courses in human health and molecular and cellular biology) that I am most excited about is the use of inquiry cases to introduce major concepts in evolution, ecology, and organismal biology.
As part of one inquiry case, we will be exploring the issues surrounding freshwater mussels in the Great Lakes region, including the native diversity and the impacts of invasions by zebra mussels and quagga mussels.
My latest online project: Hackademe
Hack: A clever use of technology, software, or modified items to solve a problem or increase efficiency.
Academe: The community of scholars and students engaged in higher education and research; also known as academia or acadème.
Hackademe: A website devoted to sharing clever uses of technology, software, or modified items to solve problems related to information overload, time management, organization, productivity, and other challenges faced by academics on a daily basis.