Is Natural Genetic Engineering real?

At least one very qualified member of this forum has questioned whether NGE is real.

Are not papers like this ample evidence that it is real? Now, as long as these changes are passed down the germline, wouldn’t this constitute a mutation that is not random with respect to fitness?

I’m not a scientist. Help me understand. I’m not an ID advocate, fyi, so you don’t have to worry about me pushing the idea that God had to intervene to produce cells capable of this.


They aren’t.

Further, one should not extrapolate from the weird situation in ciliate development (and that’s the proper word here) to make assumptions about vertebrate evolution.

What do we mean by “engineering”?

If I cut my toenails, is that engineering? If I have a haircut, is the barber engaged in engineering?

Those are purposeful activities making changes that we consider beneficial. But I think we need something more before we would apply the term engineering.

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Shapiro defines NGE as "the capabilities cells have to restructure their genomes).”

Excerpt From: James A. Shapiro. “Evolution.” iBooks.
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Given Shapiro’s definition, does that paper describe NGE?

Sure, because it’s a vague enough definition to fit all sorts of things. Definitely, the germ line genome in these ciliates is restructured in a specific way when making the macronucleus. But the germ line genome itself doesn’t change. This is not evolution but development. It’s my understanding that this “natural genetic engineering” is supposed to be an evolutionary process, and if that’s the case, what’s described in the paper is not NGE.

My main criticism of Shapiro, is that there’s too much hype. As far as I can tell, he is getting the biology about right (note that I am not a biologist), but his language tends to overstate things.

I don’t object to his use of “natural genetic engineering”, but I take that to be a metaphor.

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It appears to fit the definition. However, the real question is what relevance NGE has to evolution, and how it offers anything different from what is already in the theory of evolution. From what I have read, Shapiro’s entire argument seems to be against a strawman version of the theory of evolution, and more specifically, a serious misunderstanding of what biologists mean by “random mutation”.