The gene can be described as the foundational concept of modern biology. As such, it has spilled over into daily discourse, yet it is acknowledged among biologists to be ill-defined. Here, following a short history of the gene, I analyse critically its role in inheritance, evolution, development, and morphogenesis. Wilhelm Johannsen's genotype-conception, formulated in 1910, has been adopted as the foundation stone of genetics, giving the gene a higher degree of prominence than is justified by the evidence. An analysis of the results of the Long-Term Evolution Experiment (LTEE) with E. coli bacteria, grown over 60,000 generations, does not support spontaneous gene mutation as the source of variance for natural selection. From this it follows that the gene is not Mendel's unit of inheritance: that must be Johannsen's transmission-conception at the gamete phenotype level, a form of inheritance that Johannsen did not consider. Alternatively, I contend that biology viewed on the bases of thermodynamics, complex system dynamics and self-organisation, provides a new framework for the foundations of biology. In this framework, the gene plays a passive role as a vital information store: it is the phenotype that plays the active role in inheritance, evolution, development, and morphogenesis.
The gene: An appraisal
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