Neo-Darwinism, the Modern Synthesis and selfish genes: are they of use in physiology?
Article first published online: 25 FEB 2011
© 2011 The Author. Journal compilation © 2011 The Physiological Society
The Journal of Physiology
Volume 589, Issue 5, pages 1007–1015, March 2011
How to Cite
Noble, D. (2011), Neo-Darwinism, the Modern Synthesis and selfish genes: are they of use in physiology?. The Journal of Physiology, 589: 1007–1015. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2010.201384
- Issue published online: 25 FEB 2011
- Article first published online: 25 FEB 2011
- (Received 24 October 2010; accepted after revision 29 November 2010; first published online 6 December 2010)
This article argues that the gene-centric interpretations of evolution, and more particularly the selfish gene expression of those interpretations, form barriers to the integration of physiological science with evolutionary theory. A gene-centred approach analyses the relationships between genotypes and phenotypes in terms of differences (change the genotype and observe changes in phenotype). We now know that, most frequently, this does not correctly reveal the relationships because of extensive buffering by robust networks of interactions. By contrast, understanding biological function through physiological analysis requires an integrative approach in which the activity of the proteins and RNAs formed from each DNA template is analysed in networks of interactions. These networks also include components that are not specified by nuclear DNA. Inheritance is not through DNA sequences alone. The selfish gene idea is not useful in the physiological sciences, since selfishness cannot be defined as an intrinsic property of nucleotide sequences independently of gene frequency, i.e. the ‘success’ in the gene pool that is supposed to be attributable to the ‘selfish’ property. It is not a physiologically testable hypothesis.