Science & Education

, Volume 23, Issue 2, pp 273–284 | Cite as

The Allusion of the Gene: Misunderstandings of the Concepts Heredity and Gene

Article

Abstract

Life sciences became Biology, a formal scientific discipline, at the turn of the nineteenth century, when it adopted the methods of reductive physics and chemistry. Mendel’s hypothesis of inheritance of discrete factors further introduced a quantitative reductionist dimension into biology. In 1910 Johannsen differentiated between the phenotype, which defines traits, and their genotype, the hereditary essence of such traits and their entities—the genes. The efforts to characterize these entities culminated in 1953, in Watson–Crick’s physico-chemical double helix model of DNA, the hereditary matter. However, the more molecular biology advanced the less real were its entities: Genes became generic units of heredity. The increasing role of science in society, and the mutual interdependence of the two on each other augmented the urge of the public at large to find in science icons of authority; the generic nature of the gene concept allowed scientists to offer it as the bait, even though advances in research made it clear that a distinction must be maintained between advances in reductive methodologies and the progress of systems’ conceptions. Genes out of context are meaningless. There are no “genes for” a trait: even if a specific change in a site on the DNA sequence may end in a conspicuous change in a trait, it must be realized that many sites in the DNA, in the cell, and in the organism as a complex integrated system in its environment, determine or rather, condition traits. The role of science is asking questions by putting up hypotheses and suggesting methods of testing them rather than in providing definite answers.

References

  1. Barnes, B., & Dupré, J. (2008). Genomes and what to make of them. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Beadle, G. W., & Tatum, E. L. (1941). Genetic control of biochemical reaction in Neurospora. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Washington, 27, 499–506.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Crick, F. H. C. (1958). On protein synthesis. In: Symposium of the society for experimental biology. The biological replication of macromolecules (Vol. 12, pp. 138–163). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Crick, F. H. C. (1970). Central dogma of molecular biology. Nature, 227(5258), 561–563.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Ebstein, R. P., Israel, S., Chew, S. H., Zhong, S., & Knafo, A. (2010). Genetics of human social behavior (review). Neuron, 65, 831–844.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Falk, R. (1986). What is a gene? Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science, 17(2), 133–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Falk, R. (2000). The gene—A concept in tension. In P. J. Beurton, R. Falk, & H.-J. Rheinberger (Eds.), The concept of the gene in development and evolution: Historical and epistemological perspectives (pp. 317–348). Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Falk, R. (2006). Mendel’s impact. Science in Context, 19(2), 215–236.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Falk, R. (2008). Wilhelm Johannsen: A rebel or a diehard? In O. Harman & M. R. Dietrich (Eds.), Rebels, mavericks, and heretics in biology (pp. 65–83). New Haven & London: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Falk, R. (2009). Genetic analysis: A history of genetic thinking. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Falk, R. (2010). What is a gene?—Revisited. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Science, 41(4), 396–406.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Fisher, R. A. (1960). The design of experiments ((1935, 1st) 7th ed.). Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd.Google Scholar
  13. Friedberg, E. G. (2011). Sydney Brenner: A biography. Cold Spring Harbor, NY: Cold Sprig Harbor Laboratory Press.Google Scholar
  14. Galton, F. (1875). A theory of heredity (revised version). Journal of the Anthropological Institute, 5, 329–348.Google Scholar
  15. Galton, F. (1877). Typical laws of heredity. Proceedings of the Royal Institution, 8, 282–301.Google Scholar
  16. Jacob, F., & Monod, J. (1961). Genetic regulatory mechanisms in the synthesis of proteins. Journal of Molecular Biology, 3, 318–356.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Keller, E. F. (2010). The mirage of a space: Between nature and nurture. Durham & London: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Lenoir, T. (1982). The strategy of life. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  19. MacCorquodale, K., & Meehl, P. E. (1948). On distinction between hypothetical constructs and intervening variables. Psychological Review, 55, 95–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. McLaughlin, P. (2002). Naming Biology. Journal of the History of Biology, 35(1), 1–4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. McShea, D. W. (2011). Untangling the Morass. Book review: The mirage of space between nature and nurture. American Scientist, 99(2), 154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Muller, H. J. (1922). Variation due to change in the individual gene. The American Naturalist, 56, 32–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Muller, H. J. (1955). Life. Science, 121(3132), 1–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Nelkin, D., & Lindee, M. S. (1995). The DNA Mystique. The gene as a cultural icon. New York: W. H. Freeman and comp.Google Scholar
  25. Neumann-Held, E. M., & Rehmann-Sutter, C. (Eds.). (2006). Genes in development: Re-reading the molecular paradigm. Durham and London: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Pauling, L., Itano, H., Singer, S. J., & Wells, I. (1949). Sickle cell anemia, a molecular disease. Science, 110, 543–548.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Reardon, J. (2008). Race without salvation: Beyond the science/society divide in genomic studies of human diversity. In B. A. Koenig, S. S.-J. Lee, & S. S. Richardson (Eds.), Revisiting race in a genomic age (pp. 304–319). New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Salsburg, D. (2001). The lady tasting tea: How statistics revolutionized science in the twentieth century. New York: W. H. Freeman.Google Scholar
  29. Schrödinger, E. (1944 (1962)). What Is Life? The physical aspect of the living cell. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Stadler, P. F., Prohaska, S. J., Forst, C. V., & Krakauer, D. C. (2009). Defining genes: A computational framework. Theory in Biosciences, 128(3), 165–170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Stent, G. S. (1968). That was the molecular biology that was. Science, 160, 390–395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Stent, G. S. (1969). The coming of the golden age: A view of the end of progress. New York: Natural History Press.Google Scholar
  33. Stent, G. S. (1970). DNA. Daedalus, 99, 909–937.Google Scholar
  34. Toulmin, S. (1972). Human understanding. The collective use and evolution of concepts. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Watson, J. D., & Crick, F. H. C. (1953a). Molecular structure of nucleic acids. Nature, 171, 737–738.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Watson, J. D., & Crick, F. H. C. (1953b). The structure of DNA. Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology, 18, 123–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Genetics, and the Program for the History and Philosophy of ScienceThe Hebrew University of JerusalemJerusalemIsrael

Personalised recommendations