Crick's notion of genetic information and the ‘central dogma’ of molecular biology

An assessment is offered of the recent debate on information in the philosophy of biology, and an analysis is provided of the notion of information as applied in scientific practice in molecular genetics. In particular, this paper deals with the dependence of basic generalizations of molecular biology, above all the ‘central dogma’, on the so-called ‘informational talk’ (Maynard Smith [2000a]). It is argued that talk of information in the ‘central dogma’ can be reduced to causal claims. In that respect, the primary aim of the paper is to consider a solution to the major difficulty of the causal interpretation of genetic information: how to distinguish the privileged causal role assigned to nucleic acids, DNA in particular, in the processes of replication and protein production. A close reading is proposed of Francis H. C. Crick's On Protein Synthesis (1958) and related works, to which we owe the first explicit definition of information within the scientific practice of molecular biology. Introduction 1.1 The basic questions of the information debate 1.2 The causal interpretation (CI) of biological information and Crick's ‘central dogma’ Crick's definitions of genetic information The main requirement for (CI) Types of causation in molecular biology 4.1 Structural causation in molecular biology 4.2 Nucleic acids as correlative causal factors The ‘central dogma’ without the notion of information Concluding remarks This is a new version of this article as there were errors in the abstract and full text in the previous version.
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DOI 10.1093/bjps/axl018
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