Thirty-five years ago a highly vivid and provocative book was published by Elsevier titled Evolution without Selection: Form and Function by Autoevolution. It was translated into several languages and apparently sold thousands of copies in Russia alone but only a couple of hundred in the United States. The book’s author, Antonio Lima-de-Faria, a cytogeneticist at Lund University—with aristocratic Portuguese roots and dubbed “Knight of the Order of the North Star” by Sweden’s king for his work in science—was also one of the Osaka Group of “structuralists,” whose other members included Brian Goodwin, Mae-Wan Ho, Peter Saunders et al.
Lima-de-Faria is now an emeritus professor at Lund University and, at age 97, has just written another book whose central theme is that the recurrence of form and function in biology makes possible a periodic table similar to the periodic table of chemical elements (a subject first explored in his 1983 book) and reveals the “law of biological periodicity.” The new book (there have been several in between) is: Periodic Tables Unifying Living Organisms at the Molecular Level: The Predictive Power of the Law of Periodicity.
Lima-de-Faria opens the new book with “The Search for the Physical Rules that Predict the Atomic Behavior of DNA and of Proteins” and highlights Sweden’s neutron scattering facility at Lund University—ESS (European-Spallation-Source, under construction—46% complete). He notes that neutrons can probe matter—including biological molecules—enabling measurement of structure from micrometers to one-hundred thousandth of a micrometer plus motion from milliseconds to ten-million-millionths of a millisecond.
It is interesting that the world’s “most powerful spallation source” should be under construction at Lima-de-Faria’s university, since the packing of matter is one of the threads of his work through the years. In Evolution without Selection, Lima-de-Faria writes:
“Minerals and other pure chemicals have no genes, yet they already display these two basic features: constancy of pattern and ability to change it by forming a very large number of forms.”
Lima-de-Faria thinks ESS opens a window to a deeper understanding of the physical evolution of DNA and other atomic complexes, saying further:
“Every structure and function is the immediate product of a molecular cascade having its origin in atomic and ultimately in electronic events.”
One fascinating chapter in the new book is on carnivorous plants. In the section “Periodicity of Plant Carnivory,” Lima-de-Faria makes the argument that “carnivory evolved independently on at least ten separate occasions,” that the current genera belong to 12 families, and that there are 300 carnivorous species worldwide!