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Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp 149–184 | Cite as

The Beanbag Genetics Controversy: Towards a synthesis of opposing views of natural selection

  • WILLEM DE WINTER
Article

Abstract

The beanbag genetics controversy can be traced from the dispute between Fisher and Wright, through Mayr's influential promotion of the issue, to the contemporary units of selection debate. It centers on the claim that genic models of natural selection break down in the face of epistatic interactions among genes during phenotypic development. This claim is explored from both a conceptual and a quantitative point of view, and is shown to be defective on both counts.

Firstly, an analysis of the controversy's theoretical origins demonstrates that this claim derives from a misinterpretation of the conceptual foundations of Fisher's genetical theory of natural selection, and confounds his fundamentally different concepts of the average excess and average effect of a gene. Secondly, an extension of the genic approach is proposed which models the dynamics of selection among epistatically interacting complexes of many genes. Paradoxically, this preliminary, but fundamentally genic model provides quantitative support for some controversial qualitative claims regarding the evolutionary consequences of strong gene interactions made by opponents of genic selectionism, including Mayr's theory of peripartric speciation. These findings foster hope that the proposed approach may eventually nudge the beanbag controversy out of its conceptual trenches into a more empirically oriented dialogue.

natural selection beanbag genetics genic selectionism gene-interactionism epistasis multilocus selection adaptive landscape peripatric speciation 

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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • WILLEM DE WINTER
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Anatomy and Human BiologyUniversity of Western AustraliaPerthAustralia

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