Stuart A. Newman

Stuart A. Newman

Department of Cell Biology & Anatomy; New York Medical College, Valhalla, NY

Stuart Newman received his early education in chemistry (Columbia University, A.B.) and chemical physics (University of Chicago, Ph.D.), which have informed his approach to developmental and evolutionary biology. He has proposed that genes act in the context of multicellular systems by mobilizing a variety of physical processes of the “middle” scale to generate forms of increasing complexity. These mesoscale physical processes, discovered throughout the 20th century and thus unknown to the formulators of the standard evolutionary narrative, cause early embryos and the primordia of organs to reorganize in sudden but predictable ways as the result of small changes in gene content or activity. Such physical processes are also sensitive to external factors, the effects of which can be incorporated into the developmental repertoire and propagated across generations.

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These physico-genetic effects, demonstrable in the development of present-day organisms, were all the stronger in ancient forms, which had yet to experience the canalizing and stabilizing selection that have made embryogenesis a robust and largely fail-safe process. Therefore, rather than being gradualistic, unpredictable, and unaffected by causal factors other than genetic variation, morphological evolution, Newman has concluded, has been both saltational (occurring in jumps) and orthogenic (exhibiting recurrent, predictable morphological motifs), and bears the stamp of inheritance of acquired characteristics.



"The concept that epigenetic mechanisms are the generative agents of body plan and morphological character origination helps to explain findings that are difficult to reconcile with the standard neo-Darwinian model, e.g., the burst of body plans in the early Cambrian, the origins of morphological innovation, homology, and rapid change of form."