Journal of Biosciences

, Volume 39, Issue 2, pp 191–200 | Cite as

Evolution, epigenetics and cooperation

  • Patrick Bateson


Explanations for biological evolution in terms of changes in gene frequencies refer to outcomes rather than process. Integrating epigenetic studies with older evolutionary theories has drawn attention to the ways in which evolution occurs. Adaptation at the level of the gene is giving way to adaptation at the level of the organism and higher-order assemblages of organisms. These ideas impact on the theories of how cooperation might have evolved. Two of the theories, i.e. that cooperating individuals are genetically related or that they cooperate for self-interested reasons, have been accepted for a long time. The idea that adaptation takes place at the level of groups is much more controversial. However, bringing together studies of development with those of evolution is taking away much of the heat in the debate about the evolution of group behaviour.


Cooperation epigenetics evolution levels of selection 



This article grew out of a lecture that I gave at a meeting held in Almora, India, in May 2012. I thank Vidyanand Nanjundiah for his friendship and encouragement. A question that he posed to all those attending the meeting was the following: ‘To what extent can one account for group behaviour in terms of the properties of its constituent units as exhibited when they are isolated, and to what extent does one need to invoke group-level, emergent traits?’ It is an important challenge. I am grateful to Stuart Newman and Madeleine Beekman for their comments on my earlier attempt to meet the challenge.


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Copyright information

© Indian Academy of Sciences 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sub-Department of Animal BehaviourUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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