Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 27, Issue 2, pp 215–239

Selection without replicators: the origin of genes, and the replicator/interactor distinction in etiobiology


    • Department of PhilosophyUniversity of Sydney
  • Clem Stanyon
    • Institut des science biologiqueCentre national de la recherche scientifique
  • Ian Musgrave
    • Discipline of PharmacologyUniversity of Adelaide

DOI: 10.1007/s10539-011-9298-7

Cite this article as:
Wilkins, J.S., Stanyon, C. & Musgrave, I. Biol Philos (2012) 27: 215. doi:10.1007/s10539-011-9298-7


Genes are thought to have evolved from long-lived and multiply-interactive molecules in the early stages of the origins of life. However, at that stage there were no replicators, and the distinction between interactors and replicators did not yet apply. Nevertheless, the process of evolution that proceeded from initial autocatalytic hypercycles to full organisms was a Darwinian process of selection of favourable variants. We distinguish therefore between Neo-Darwinian evolution and the related Weismannian and Central Dogma divisions, on the one hand, and the more generic category of Darwinian evolution on the other. We argue that Hull’s and Dawkins’ replicator/interactor distinction of entities is a sufficient, but not necessary, condition for Darwinian evolution to take place. We conceive the origin of genes as a separation between different types of molecules in a thermodynamic state space, and employ a notion of reproducers.


GeneOrigins of lifeEtiobiologyHypercycleAutocatalysisNatural selectionNeo-DarwinismReplicatorInteractorReproducerWeismannDawkinsHull

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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011