The Human Condition Documentary Proposal—Part 2 Soul
Elaborating the Reproductive Unit
To return to the story of the development of matter on Earth, it was mentioned that there were two means by which Negative Entropy or God could overcome the impasse to integrating multicellular animals that was created by the limitation of genes having to be selfish.
Since each reproducing individual had to ensure its own reproduction, one obvious means of getting around the problem was to elaborate the reproductive individual, make it bigger. Ant and bee colonies, for example, became totally cooperative, fully integrated wholes or collectives or societies of many multicellular individuals by elaborating the reproductive unit. This was achieved by deferring the sexual reproduction of the workers and soldiers so that the colony consists of just one sexual queen and one, or very few at the most, sexual males. Deferring their own sexual reproduction eliminated the divisive competition amongst the individual ants/bees to reproduce. Their reproduction was ensured through their support of the sexual queen; they foster her and she reproduces them.
Elaborating the reproductive unit was the way single-celled organisms integrated to form multicellular organisms. Volvox, one of the best-known genera of green algae, offers one example of an organism in transition from the single-celled to the multicellular state. The following honest description of the process of integration occurring in Volvox is taken from a 1938 biological text book: ‘Volvox is seen in fresh-water ponds as a small, green sphere which may be one-tenth of an inch in diameter. The sphere is composed of thousands of flagellates embedded in the surface of a jelly ball…Volvox is a colony of unicellular animals rather than a many-celled animal, because even the simplest many-celled animals have considerably more differentiation between cells than appears among the cells of Volvox. The colony swims about, rolling over and over from the action of the flagella; but, remarkably enough, the same end of the sphere is always directed forward, and thus we can distinguish front and rear ends. Its behaviour can be explained only by supposing that the activities of the numerous flagellates are subordinated to the activity of the colony as a whole. If the flagella of each member of the colony were to beat without reference to the other members, the sphere would never get anywhere. In such subordination of the individual cells of a colony to the good of the colony as a whole we see the beginnings of individuality as it exists in the higher animals, where each animal behaves as a single individual, although composed of millions of cells…The co-ordination of numerous components into an individual is usually followed by the specialisation of different individuals for different duties. Only the slightest degree of specialisation is seen in the Volvox colony; the flagellates of the back part of the colony are capable of reproduction, while the front members never reproduce but have larger Page 21 of
Print Edition eyespots and serve primarily in directing the course of the colony’ (Animals without Backbones, R. Buchsbaum, 1938, p.50 of 401).
The problem for large animals is they can’t employ the device of elaborating the reproductive unit for developing a fully cooperative, integrated whole or unit or colony because it involves too great a loss of variability. For example, if one reproducing queen zebra had ten non-reproducing offspring dedicated to her protection, and this became a common practice amongst zebras, then the genetic variety of a population of 1,000 zebras would be reduced to just 100, a drastic loss of variability. All it would take for such a scenario to occur would be for a zebra mother to be born who happened to have a genetic make-up that meant her milk contained a chemical that retarded the sexual maturation of her offspring—similar to the ‘royal jelly’ employed by queen bees to ‘enslave’ their offspring. If this situation were to occur, where the offspring aren’t sexual, the only way their genes could reproduce would be through their mother reproducing. Therefore, if this zebra mother with the retarding milk also had offspring that tended to act as her protectors then the development of the larger integrated zebra colony would be underway. However, as mentioned earlier, the problem is the drastic reduction in genetic variability resulting from such a scenario, for species need variability in order to adapt to change. Since ant and bee colonies are only small in relation to their environment they have been able to develop a fully integrated colonial way of living without any significant loss of variability. For example, thousands of ant colonies can exist in an area that would support 1,000 zebras, but only 100 zebra colonies. It follows then that developing colonies by elaborating the reproductive unit was not a viable option for large animal species. Negative Entropy or God had to find another way to form fully cooperative colonies or societies or integrated wholes of large animals.
Interestingly, quite a number of animal species, such as blue wren birds and naked mole rats, are, to varying degrees of success, attempting to elaborate their reproductive units. Blue wrens delay their sexual maturation and these sexually immature adults support the raising of their parents’ subsequent offspring. Ensuring their eventual sexual maturation, as opposed to the permanent suppression of it that occurs in ants and bees, protects their species against the loss of too much variability. Naked mole rats form fully integrated colonies of up to 300 individuals, comprising non-sexual ‘workers’ and ‘soldiers’ as well as a special sexual ‘disperser caste’ that escape their natal burrow to access other colonies and, in doing so, help maintain the genetic variety of the species.