Words as Battle Cries: Symbiogenesis and the New Field of Endocytobiology


Author(s): Lynn Margulis
Source: BioScience, Vol. 40, No. 9, Ecosystem Science for the Future (Oct., 1990), pp. 673-677
Available on Sci-Hub


Mutual-Aid Biology

Human social concerns have inextricably permeated discussions regarding the participants in symbiosis. These concerns have contributed to the misconstruing of the term. Belgian biologist-politician P. J. Van Beneden (1873) first used the term mutual aid in describing “repayment” for services among “lower animals.” Wholesale extrapolation from “the society of men” to “the community of animals” became especially evident in Peter Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid (1902). A Russian prince exiled to London, Kropotkin sought answers to questions of human relations in nature: Mutual aid is met with even amidst the lowest animals, and we must be prepared to learn some day, from the students of microscopical pond-life, facts of unconscious mutual support, even from the life of micro-organisms. (Kropotkin 1902, p. 10) Kropotkin’s analyses of animals, “savages,” “barbarians,” medieval city-dwellers, and modern society all extend his theories that … mutual aid is as much a law of animal life as mutual struggle, but that, as a factor of evolution, it most probably has a far greater importance, inasmuch as it favours the development of such habits and characters as insure the maintenance and further development of the species, together with the greatest amount of welfare and enjoyment of life for the individual, with the least waste of energy. (Kropotkin 1902, p. 6) To Kropotkin and many subsequent scholars, the idea of symbiosis and mutual aid – cooperative forces in evolution – was to be contrasted with the idea of competition – a negative force leading to the struggle for existence. Kropotkin’s work accentuated both the confounding of mutual aid with symbiosis and the imposition of human social analysis on descriptions of organismal interaction. Most Western scientists have regarded symbiosis and mutualism as political slogans, therefore choosing not to focus experiments on these biological phenomena. For most of this century, then, symbiosis research was divorced from cellular, molecular, and evolutionary biology. Evolutionists and most other biologists – both experimental and theoretical – still consider symbiosis analyses to be remote to evolutionary analyses (Keller and Lloyd in press). Symbiosis is ignored, or only defined, in the major textbooks of evolution (e.g., Avers 1989, Ayala and Valen- tine 1979, Ehrlich and Holm 1963, Futuyma 1986, Kimura 1983, Minkoff 1983). Only two English-language biology textbooks use symbiosis as their organizing principle. One, designed for undergraduates, is an excellent introduction to symbiosis (Ahmadjian and Paracer 1986); it describes dozens of associations by taxa. The second, an erudite and useful graduate text, is dedicated to the experimental analysis of symbiosis (Smith and Douglas 1987). But neither book evaluates symbiosis as a major mechanism of generating heritable variation in evolution.

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