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Oddly Microbial: Selfish Genes*

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Evolution is largely driven by conflict, not collaboration, according to cell evolutionist Harmit Malik at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (FHCRC). Mammalian cells are contentious places, he explains, populated by alien and host genomic sequences fighting for dominance. "In the competition between one gene faction and another, the side that most recently changed — the genomic mercenary or the host — temporarily wins putting a constant evolutionary pressure on the losing side to change as well," Malik says. As the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass said (albeit about something entirely different): "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place." "Both parties have to rapidly evolve to restore the status quo or run the risk of extinction and that" the essence of a classic Red Queen arms race," Malik adds.

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