The Elements of Evolution (33-1-4) Genomic Symphony

 Genomic Symphony

A hen is only an egg’s way of making another egg. ~ English novelist Samuel Butler

The gene-centric view of the purpose of life is an extension of the quip by Samuel Butler, answering which came first: the chicken or the egg.

If a chicken is an egg’s vehicle for reincarnation, then the purpose of life is gene transfer. The absurdity of that should be self-apparent; but not to all.

The competitive fitness concept was taken to an absurd conclusion by English evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in the 1976 book The Selfish Gene, where Dawkins fantasized gene-centric evolution: every gene for itself in a “gene-eat-gene” world.

We are survival machines – robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes. ~ Richard Dawkins

In Dawkins’ imagination, organisms exist to perpetuate genes. The notion flies in the face of well-known facts that genes interrelate to create an organitype that serves an individual organism, which ultimately contributes to species population survival (if one simplistically views the purpose of life as propagation).

If genes were generally selfish, a parent gene would squelch alleles as cheap imitations aiming at usurpation. Adaptive evolution would grind to a halt under such a scenario.

An allele is one of multiple forms of a gene or genetic locus (group of genes). Allele is the short form of allelomorph (other form), historically used to describe variant gene forms detected as invoking different phenotypes.

When making his fervent proclamation of selfish genes, Dawkins had no notion of epigenetics. As with alleles, if Dawkins’ premise had any merit, no self-respecting gene would allow itself to be so suppressed as to not be expressed.

Perhaps Dawkins’ retort would be that epigenetics is simply the battleground of an ongoing gene-versus-gene war, with certain genes becoming casualties. That is readily disabused in knowing the gene regulation is an intricate concerted process which varies greatly and is almost always reversible. As memory has an epigenetic correlate, unselfish gene regulation is essential to intelligent life.

Competition plays no part in the functioning of genomics. Instead, genetics demonstrates the symphonic nature of life at the molecular level.

Selfishness isn’t evolutionarily sustainable. ~ Flemish geneticist Christoph Adami

Exceptions prove the rule. There are selfish genes.