The return of the whole organism
- Cite this article as:
- Bateson, P. J Biosci (2005) 30: 31. doi:10.1007/BF02705148
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The long trend towards analysis at lower and lower levels is starting to reverse. The new integrative studies must make use of the resources uncovered by molecular biology but should also use the characteristics of whole organisms to measure the outcomes of developmental processes. Two examples are given of how movement between levels of analysis is being used with increasing power and promise. The first is the study of behavioural imprinting in birds where many of the molecular and neural mechanisms involved have been uncovered and are now being integrated to explain the behaviour of the whole animal. The second is the triggering during sensitive periods in early life by environmental events of one of several alternative modes of development leading to different phenotypes. A renewed focus on the whole organism is also starting to change the face of evolutionary biology. The decision-making and adaptability of the organism is recognized an important driver of evolution and is increasingly seen as an alternative to the gene-focused views.