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Sunday, May 08, 2005

No More “Selfish Gene” Biology?

A recent article in the Guardian’s Education supplement suggests that new findings in genetics have undermined Darwinist Richard Dawkins’s famous “selfish gene”to the point where it is a meaningless concept.

Rather than having a single major function, most genes, like roads, probably play a small part in lots of tasks within the cell. By dissecting biology into its genetic atoms, reductionism failed to account for these multitasking genes. So the starting point for systems biologists isn't the gene but rather a mathematical model of the entire cell. Instead of focusing on key control points, systems biologists look at the system properties of the entire network. In this new vision of biology, genes aren't discrete nuggets of genetic information but more diffuse entities whose functional reality may be spread across hundreds of interacting DNA segments.

M‘bye, Dawkins. Whoops, don’t forget those selfish genes of yours, even though they’ll forget you. Seriously, as a result,

Systems biology is reasserting the primacy of the whole organism - the system - rather than the selfish behaviour of any of its components.

Systems biology courses are infiltrating curricula in campuses across the globe and systems biology centres are popping up in cities from London to Seattle. The British biological research funding body, the BBSRC, has just announced the creation of three systems biology centres in the UK. These centres are very different from traditional biology departments as they tend to be staffed by physicists, mathematicians and engineers, alongside biologists. Rather like the systems they study, systems biology centres are designed to promote interactivity and networking.

This new trend should be good news for the intelligent design scientists, who tend to thrive better in interdisciplinary groups than in closed, reductionist ones.


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