In the post-genomic era the complex problem of evolutionary biology can be tackled from the top-down, the bottom-up, or from the middle-out. Given the emergent and contingent nature of this process, we have chosen to take the latter approach, both as a mechanistic link to developmental biology and as a rational means of identifying signaling mechanisms based on their functional genomic significance. Using this approach, we have been able to configure a working model for lung evolution by reverse-engineering lung surfactant from the mammalian lung to the swim bladder of fish. Based on this archetypal cell-molecular model, we have reduced evolutionary biology to cell communication, starting with unicellular organisms communicating with the environment, followed by cell-cell communication to generate metazoa, culminating in the communication of genetic information between generations, i.e. reproduction. This model predicts the evolution of physiologic systems-including development, homeostasis, disease, regeneration/ repair, and aging- as a logical consequence of biology reducing entropy. This approach provides a novel and robust way of formulating refutable, testable hypotheses to determine the ultimate origins and first principles of physiology, providing candidate genes for phenotypes hypothesized to have mediated evolutionary changes in structure and/or function. Ultimately, it will form the basis for predictive medicine and molecular bioethics, rather than merely showing associations between genes and pathology, which is an unequivocal Just So Story. In this new age of genomics, our reach must exceed our grasp.
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