The sociobiology of genes: the gene’s eye view as a unifying behavioural-ecological framework for biological evolution

History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 40 (1):6 (2017)
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Abstract

Although classical evolutionary theory, i.e., population genetics and the Modern Synthesis, was already implicitly ‘gene-centred’, the organism was, in practice, still generally regarded as the individual unit of which a population is composed. The gene-centred approach to evolution only reached a logical conclusion with the advent of the gene-selectionist or gene’s eye view in the 1960s and 1970s. Whereas classical evolutionary theory can only work with fitness differences between individual organisms, gene-selectionism is capable of working with fitness differences among genes within the same organism and genome. Here, we explore the explanatory potential of ‘intra-organismic’ and ‘intra-genomic’ gene-selectionism, i.e., of a behavioural-ecological ‘gene’s eye view’ on genetic, genomic and organismal evolution. First, we give a general outline of the framework and how it complements the—to some extent—still ‘organism-centred’ approach of classical evolutionary theory. Secondly, we give a more in-depth assessment of its explanatory potential for biological evolution, i.e., for Darwin’s ‘common descent with modification’ or, more specifically, for ‘historical continuity or homology with modular evolutionary change’ as it has been studied by evolutionary developmental biology during the last few decades. In contrast with classical evolutionary theory, evo-devo focuses on ‘within-organism’ developmental processes. Given the capacity of gene-selectionism to adopt an intra-organismal gene’s eye view, we outline the relevance of the latter model for evo-devo. Overall, we aim for the conceptual integration between the gene’s eye view on the one hand, and more organism-centred evolutionary models on the other.

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