The Escher Cycle and GM genes

Click to read Guardian article

This article from the Guardian in May 2000 states:

“A leading zoologist has found evidence that genes used to modify crops can jump the species barrier and cause bacteria to mutate.”

This will come as no surprise to anyone who has read The Escher Cycle.

We are brought up to believe that species evolve. But Gregory Bateson showed us that it is ecosystems that are the unit of evolution, not individual species. The whole ecosystem evolves together.

One mechanism by which this happens is mechanistic: faster cheetah cause faster antelope, and faster antelope cause faster cheetah. Insects that prosper later in the year lead to birds that have their chicks later in the year, and so on.

And another mechanism of evolution is the jumping of genes between organisms. After all, we all evolved from the same basic organisms (and humans share approximately 98% of their DNA with chimps, 70% with slugs and 50% with bananas), so why wouldn’t we expect a gene from banana to make itself right at home inside us?

The appendix of The Escher Cycle demonstrates how this happens. It shows how the circular understanding of business developed in the earlier part of the book also applies to nature.

The appendix shows how evolution has two parts: intra-species and inter-species, within species and between species.

It is only in the last hundred years or so that we have understood that genes play a part in evolution within a species.

What this research shows is that there is a new effect: genes can also affect evolution between different species as well as within a species.

And what the Escher Cycle implies to us is that there is an additional factor at play as well:

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Gregory Bateson also told us that it is differences between the way we think the world works and the way the world actually works that cause most of the problems in the world. For example, in the 1800s, nobody understood that putting raw sewage directly into our drinking water would cause cholera outbreaks. It simply didn’t figure in our thinking.

In the same way, not understanding that GM bacteria in our stomachs might affect our own genes means that we wouldn’t expect eating GM food to mean that we could no longer fight disease, digest food, or clot our blood.

The Escher Cycle explains how this effect should be expected. After all, what led to the development of mammals was the ‘infection’ of a reptile cell by a virus, causing those reptiles to develop umbilical cords (or so I was told by a geneticist). And before that it was ‘infection’ of bacterial cells by mitochondrial bacteria that provided the energy source enabling larger multi-celled life forms to develop.

Evolution happens between species just as much as within species.

And when we understand how the world really works then we can also find new opportunities. Understanding that cholera was caused by bad water, not bad air, allowed us to build the sewers and piped water systems that led to the size of cities we have today. Understanding that the world was round and not flat enabled Columbus to discover America. And understanding how species and the economy truly evolve can help us to design and run businesses in ways that are not only more in line with nature, more sustainable, but also more successful.


(And as an aside, the Escher Cycle also implies that we are all part of a larger evolving eco-system, perhaps called Gaia, shown here as the yellow arrows:

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