Toolbox murders: putting genes in their epigenetic and ecological contexts
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- Pradeu, T. Biol Philos (2016) 31: 125. doi:10.1007/s10539-014-9471-x
Griffiths and Stotz’s Genetics and Philosophy: An Introduction offers a very good overview of scientific and philosophical issues raised by present-day genetics. Examining, in particular, the questions of how a “gene” should be defined and what a gene does from a causal point of view, the authors explore the different domains of the life sciences in which genetics has come to play a decisive role, from Mendelian genetics to molecular genetics, behavioural genetics, and evolution. In this review, I highlight what I consider as the two main theses of the book, namely: (i) genes are better conceived as tools; (ii) genes become causes only in a context. I situate these two theses in the wider perspective of developmental systems theory. This leads me to emphasize that Griffiths and Stotz reflect very well an on going process in genetics, which I call the “epigenetization” of genetics, i.e., the growing interest in the complex processes by which gene activation is regulated. I then make a factual objection, which is that Griffiths and Stotz have almost entirely neglected the perspective of ecological developmental biology, and more precisely recent work on developmental symbioses, and I suggest that this omission is unfortunate in so far as an examination of developmental symbioses would have considerably strengthened Griffiths and Stotz’s own conclusions.