Replacement of the “genetic program” program
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Talk of a “genetic program” has become almost as common in cell and evolutionary biology as talk of “genetic information”. But what is a genetic program? I understand the claim that an organism’s genome contains a program to mean that its genes not only carry information about which proteins to make, but also about the conditions in which to make them. I argue that the program description, while accurate in some respects, is ultimately misleading and should be abandoned. After that, I sketch an alternative framework which is better suited to capturing the full informational nature of genes. This framework is centered on the notion of a signaling game, as originally developed by David Lewis, but expanded upon considerably by Brian Skyrms in more recent years. On the view I develop, genes turn out to be the producers and consumers of regulatory or developmental information, rather than entities encoding such information. This finding has consequences that link up with a broader debate in the philosophy of biology concerning inheritance systems. I take this to be one form of theoretical payoff that results from applying the signaling games framework to genes.
KeywordsGenetic program Gene promoters Hierarchical coding Information processing Signaling games
I am grateful to Peter Godfrey-Smith for discussion and comments on this work. I would also like to thank Kim Sterelny and two anonymous reviewers for helpful advice.
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