Biological Theory

, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp 80–88 | Cite as

A Mixed Self: The Role of Symbiosis in Development

  • Thomas PradeuEmail author
Original Paper


Since the 1950s, the common view of development has been internalist: development is seen as the result of the unfolding of potentialities already present in the egg cell. In this article, I show that this view is incorrect because of the crucial influence of the environment on development. I focus on a fascinating example, that of the role played by symbioses in development, especially bacterial symbioses, a phenomenon found in virtually all organisms (plants, invertebrates, and vertebrates). I claim that we must consequently modify our conception of the boundaries of the developing entity, and I show how immunology can help us in accomplishing this task. I conclude that the developing entity encompasses many elements traditionally seen as “foreign,” while I reject the idea that there is no possible distinction between the organism and its environment.


Bacteria Development Internalism Organism Organogenesis Self Symbiosis 



I want to thank Lucie Laplane, Michel Morange, Antonine Nicoglou, Frédérique Théry, and Michel Vervoort for excellent and fruitful interactions within the “Boundaries of Development” research group at the IHPST. I also want to thank Gérard Eberl, Scott Gilbert, and Peter Godfrey-Smith for useful discussions, as well as Lucie Laplane, Michel Morange, Michel Vervoort, Francesca Merlin, and Hannah-Louise Clark for their comments on the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Konrad Lorenz Institute 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentParis-Sorbonne UniversityParisFrance
  2. 2.Institut d’Histoire et de la Philosophie des Sciences et TechniquesInstitut universitaire de FranceParisFrance

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