Science & Education

, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 345–374 | Cite as

How to Understand the Gene in the Twenty-First Century?

  • Lia Midori Nascimento Meyer
  • Gilberto Cafezeiro Bomfim
  • Charbel Niño El-HaniEmail author


It is widely acknowledged in the literature on philosophy of biology and, more recently, among biologists themselves that the gene concept is currently in crisis. This crisis concerns the so-called “classical molecular concept”, according to which a gene is a DNA segment encoding one functional product, which can be either a RNA molecule or a polypeptide. In this paper, we first describe three categories of anomalies that challenge this way of understanding genes. Then, we discuss proposals for revising the gene concept so as to accommodate the increasingly known complexity of genomic architecture and dynamics. Our intention is to provide an informative overview of recent proposals concerning how we should conceive of genes, which are probably not very familiar to many science educators and teachers, but can bring relevant contributions to genetics teaching, in particular, to a more critical treatment of genes and their role in living systems.


Gene DNA Unit Crisis Genetic teaching 



We would like to thank the Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (CAPES) and the State of Bahia Foundation for the Support of Research (FAPESB) for graduate studies grants, and the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) and FAPESB for financial support. We also thank CNPq for a grant for productivity in research. We are also indebted to Vanessa Carvalho dos Santos and Leyla Mariane Joaquim for suggestions about the manuscript.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lia Midori Nascimento Meyer
    • 1
  • Gilberto Cafezeiro Bomfim
    • 2
  • Charbel Niño El-Hani
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Biosciences - Campus ItabaianaFederal University of SergipeItabaianaBrazil
  2. 2.Institute of BiologyFederal University of BahiaSalvadorBrazil

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