Theorist: Darwin had it wrong

From: Alexanian, Moorad <>
Date: Sat Apr 17 2004 - 20:07:45 EDT

Article published Apr 17, 2004
Theorist: Darwin had it wrong
S.C. professor says life forms arose without common origin

CHARLESTON, S.C. - In the beginning, it was just the proteins.

The way biochemist Christian Schwabe saw it, Darwinian evolution should
have given closely related animals similar sets of proteins.

It was a simple idea, just a way to prove the cellular legacy of
millions of years of common ancestry. Only it didn't work.

The mismatched proteins were just a stray thread in the grand tapestry
of life, yet the flaw gnawed at the back of the professor's mind - until
one day at Harvard University in 1970, when a new idea struck him in the
middle of a lecture.

"That's not going to work that way," Dr. Schwabe said aloud, and his
students watched in bewilderment as their instructor spent the rest of
the class working out the first bits of his idea on the blackboard.

What Dr. Schwabe began that day would become, by 1984, something he
called the "genomic potential hypothesis:" the idea that life on Earth
arose not from a single, random-chance event, but from multiple,
predictable, chemical processes.

As bold as that idea seemed, it was tame compared with the second part
of his theory: that evolution by natural selection - a cornerstone of
Darwinian thought - was a 19th-century illusion.

Rather than a world of diversely adapted species with one common origin,
Dr. Schwabe saw each modern species as the ultimate expression of its
own independent origin.

Evolution wasn't about adaptation, Dr. Schwabe said, but the perfection
of each species' original "genomic potential."

He and a colleague published the first paper on the idea in 1984, and
the German-born professor settled in to await the inevitable critical
response. It never came.

More articles in small academic journals followed in 1985 and 1990, but
they, too, failed to provoke debate.

Today, Dr. Schwabe is a professor of biochemistry at the Medical
University of South Carolina, a federally funded investigator who has
accounted for more than $4 million in research funding, much of it
related to drugs that regulate blood flow.

He has published more than 100 scholarly works and received five patents
for his discoveries.

Yet when it comes to his most provocative idea, Dr. Schwabe is
practically an invisible man. His articles on genomic potential
hypothesis - GPH - typically are returned without meaningful comment by
editors, most recently by the prestigious journal Science, and sometimes
it seems as if the only people paying attention to his work are Internet

"I think one of the most brilliant and bravest thinkers in America lives
in Charleston, S.C.," said Ron Landes, a scientific publisher from
Texas, "and nobody knows about him."

All he wants, Dr. Schwabe says, is a hearing by his peers.

"If they don't like it, they should tell me factually what is wrong," he
said. "If they think it's no good, they have the obligation to disprove

That's the ideal of science we all learned in grade school. But as Dr.
Schwabe continues to demonstrate, the practice of science is a bit more

It takes an educated specialist to evaluate scientific claims; new
discoveries are practically meaningless until they are published in
major journals.

Publication signifies that the science behind an article is solid and
that the idea, right or wrong, is worthy of study. This system of
establishing credibility, called peer review, is essential to the
scientific process, yet not every idea is worthy of serious, high-level
peer review.

But the critical question in Dr. Schwabe's case isn't whether peer
review works - rather, it's, "Can unorthodox but potentially significant
ideas get access to legitimate peer review?"

Though peer review remains essential to the scientific method, "It is
not a requirement that anyone else pay attention to you," said Jerry
Hilbish, professor of biological sciences at the University of South

Yet the big journals also have a lot to lose by missing out on a big
breakthrough, he said.

"It is normal in science for new ideas that contradict old ones to be
resisted or ignored for a while," Dr. Bauer said. "Many people in that
situation are stunned that they're not being listened to, because
science is supposed to be so open to new ideas. But the reality is that
(science) is open to new things, but just not things that are too new."

Received on Sat Apr 17 20:08:21 2004

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