Natural selection provides feedback through which information about the environment and its recurring challenges is captured, inherited, and accumulated within genomes in the form of variations that contribute to survival. The variation upon which natural selection acts is generally described as "random." Yet evidence has been mounting for decades, from such phenomena as mutation hotspots, horizontal gene transfer, and highly mutable repetitive sequences, that variation is far from the simplifying idealization of random processes as white (uniform in space and time and independent of the environment or context). This paper focuses on what is known about the generation and control of mutational variation, emphasizing that it is not uniform across the genome or in time, not unstructured with respect to survival, and is neither memoryless nor independent of the (also far from white) environment. We suggest that, as opposed to frequentist methods, Bayesian analysis could capture the evolution of nonuniform probabilities of distinct classes of mutation, and argue not only that the locations, styles, and timing of real mutations are not correctly modeled as generated by a white noise random process, but that such a process would be inconsistent with evolutionary theory.
Keywords: Darwin; evolution; feedback; natural selection; random mutation.
© 2013 New York Academy of Sciences.