Cleave Award Lecture 2011: Origins of Diversity 

David Marsh

Report by Simon House; Chair, McCarrison Society for Nutrition and Health.

22 November 2011: Camden, London,NW1 

Cleave Award Lecture

The Chair introduced the next speaker, well known to all present, to commend him on his remarkable co-authorship with Michael Crawford of Nutrition and Evolution, and his paper Origins of Diversity, the essence of which will emerge in his talk.

Tracing the history of evolution theory from the late 18th century to the present day, David Marsh explained how both the two great evolutionists, Lamarck and Darwin had stressed how the environment (Darwin’s  ‘Conditions of Existence’) was arguably the most important part of evolution.

He explained how Darwin confused people by saying that of the two great forces driving evolution, natural selection and conditions of existence, the most important was ‘conditions’ . In other parts of the Origin of Species he says that natural selection was the most important.

No wonder then that he was misinterpreted. After Darwin’s death, August Weismann in the 1890’s argued natural selection as ‘a force sufficient unto itself’, thus erasing half of Darwin’s original thesis - apart that is from accepting that natural selection worked on the gene pool provided by the environment.

Marsh continued to relate the key moves leading to the Modern Synthesis in the 1930’s, to Watson and Crick’s discovery of the double helix in the 1950’s and on to the understanding of epigenetics in the late 20th century.

When the human genome map showed in 2003 that there were only 20-25,000 genes rather than the expected 135-150,000, geneticist researchers then realised that the environment was playing a more important role than previously thought. When, after a further seven years ‘The Handbook of Epigenetics, the New Molecular and Medical Genetics’ (Elsevier, 2011) was published, it showed how the environment manipulates the genome, and how both Lamarck and Darwin are both now proved correct concerning their views on the supreme importance of the environment.

(Marsh’s paper will be published in Nutrition and Health in two parts during 2012 by our new publisher SAGE Publications.)

The Cup

On the basis of his insightful studies and his being an indispensable pillar of the Society, including the production of many wide-ranging yet highly relevant Newsletter issues, and extraordinary number of significant contacts, the Chair then took delight in awarding David Marsh with the Cleave Cup, to great applause.

McCarrison Society Newsletter 45/2 April 2012)