< Back to previous page


Life's dual nature: a way out of the impasse of the gene-centred 'versus' complex systems controversy on life

Book Contribution - Chapter

Living cells and organisms are complex physical systems. Does their organization or complexity primarily rely on the intra-molecular crystalline structure of genetic nucleic acid sequences? Or is it, as critics of the U+2018gene-centredU+2019 perspective claim, predominantly a result of the inter- and supra-molecular U+2013 thus U+2018holisticU+2019 U+2013 network dynamics of genetic and various extra-genetic factors? The twentieth-century successes in several branches of genetics caused intensive focus on the causal role of genes in the biochemistry, development andevolution of living organisms, resulting in a relative abstraction or even neglect of lifeU+2019s complex systems dynamics. Today, however, partly due to the success of systems biology, a number of authors defend lifeU+2019s systems complexity while criticizing the gene-centred approach. Here, we offer a way out of the impasse of the gene-centred U+2018versusU+2019 complex systems perspective to arrive at a more balanced and complete understanding of lifeU+2019s multifaceted nature. After sketching the conceptual and historical background of the controversy, we show how the present state of knowledge in biology vindicates both the holistically complex and gene-centred nature of life on Earth, but decisively falsifies extreme genetic U+2018determinismU+2019 and U+2018reductionismU+2019 as well as extreme U+2018gene-de-centrismU+2019. Contrary to what is often claimed, the fact that genes are one among many extra-genetic causal factors contributing to the biochemistry and development of cells and organisms, only undermines or falsifies genetic determinism and reductionism but not necessarily gene-centrism. Some implications for evolutionary theory, i.e., for the controversy between the Modern Synthesis and an U+2018Extended SynthesisU+2019, are outlined.
Book: Evolutionary biology : biodiversification from genotype to phenotype
Pages: 35 - 52
Publication year:2015