"Life" shaped by genes that depend on their surrounds

Annals of the History and Philosophy of Biology 16:153-170 (2011)
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Never was dogmatic reductionism helpful in conceiving the phenomenon of life. The post-genomic era has made it clear that genes alone cannot explain the functioning of whole organisms. Already each cell represents a unique, non-recurring individual. Recent progress in developmental biology has conveyed new perspectives both on the makings of individual organisms (ontogeny), as on evolutionary change (Evo-Devo). The genome (the entirety of all genes) of an animal remains constant from fertilization onwards in each cell. The realization of genes requires molecular environments, in particular pertinent to the cytoplasm of the unfertilized egg. Individuality of an organism therefore is not only determined by its genome, but is shaped through developmental processes (it needs time!). Organisms can only exist through mutual interplays with their respective (molecular and cellular) environments at all levels of organization. Thus, life can be conceived of as endless networks of communication, e.g. as a mutual continuum, connecting all individuals, all species and all generations within their given environments. Evolutionarily, nature does not select fitting genes, but rather viable traits. The presented concepts render it unlikely that it was genes that founded our living world, but rather that distinct environments shaped “genes” (of whatever chemical nature) which proved to be “life-suitable”.

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