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  • Quote of the Day

    Posted by Ginny on December 6th, 2005 (All posts by )

    One of the most fascinating studies I have read was conducted by a group of biologists who compared the randon mutations of rat mitochondria (the little fuel processing organelles in each of our cells that have their own, much simpler DNA) during episodes of widespread plague and during normal periods. They found that mitochondrial DNA mutations occurred 3 times faster in the presence of virulent pathogens (during plagues) that during normal times.

    I think this is precisely the system property that makes the US economy more robust and adaptable than most other major economies. As American business owners and managers can tell you, in the US competitors try to kill your business every day, forcing adaptation, cost cutting, rationalizing, restructuring, soul-searching and, ultimately, growth. Without the relentless attacks of pathogens (your competitors) none of this would happen.

    John Rutledge

    UPDATE: Commander Cornflake provides helpful perspective in the comments.


    9 Responses to “Quote of the Day”

    1. ElamBend Says:

      So, it really is a rat race after all.

    2. commander cornflake Says:

      Comparisons between economics and biology are always a bit dicey. However, I do think that one of the strengths of the free market is that it forces selection and adaptation to take place. Stagnation is the road to decline and death in both economic and biological systems.

    3. Shannon Love Says:

      In biology, evolution occurs only due to external forces. In fact, Darwin was originally going to call natural selection “wedging” in order to convey that it was the environment itself that was molding organisms into specific forms. Organisms that exist in static environments do not change to any significant degree.

      It would seem that organizations follow the same rules. Without significant outside pressure from competition organizations stop evolving. Innovation and change are risky. Why run the risk unless you don’t have to?

      Organizations, like organisms, seek firstly to survive. Evolution or innovation are means to that end and not goals in and of themselves. If survival can be assured by suppressing competition and remaining static both organizations and organisms will do so.

    4. Shannon Love Says:

      I would also note that it is not only pathogens that accelerate mutation and evolution. When bacteria are starved, they switch off the internal mechanism that protect their DNA from mutation. In some strains, they actually begin to actively produce mutatgens themselves. The bacteria are trying to speed up the process of evolution to try to come up with a gene that will let them eat something in their environment.

      Similar “behavior” shows up in multicellular organisms as well. Parthnogenic species revert to sexual reproduction when stressed. Sexually reproducing species will seek to mate with others outside their normal range.

      Clearly, organisms respond to stress by trying to genetically innovate their way out of the problem. The same principle probably applies to organizations as well.

    5. Jonathan Says:

      The same principle probably applies to organizations as well.

      Only if effective feedback mechanisms exist, which is not always the case.

    6. Shannon Love Says:


      Yes, unfortunately organizations like business have the option of resort to the coercive power of the state to try to alter the environment instead altering themselves.

      I am reminded of the far side cartoon where a scientist is mugged by the contents of a petri dish holding a gun.

    7. Jonathan Says:

      Shannon, yes, getting the govt involved is one possibility. Another one is simple bad management, i.e., unintentionally using the wrong metrics or creating incentives to do the wrong things.

    8. John Edward Says:

      Why is the Christian Right in favor of social Darwanism, but opposed to evolution?

    9. LotharBot Says:

      This site isn’t “Christian Right”, nor is it anti-evolution. If you want to know why the Christian Right thinks or acts the way it does, perhaps you should find some of them to ask.