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Selection Does Operate Primarily on Genes: In Defense of the Gene as the Unit of Selection

Sapienza, Carmen (2008) Selection Does Operate Primarily on Genes: In Defense of the Gene as the Unit of Selection. [Preprint]


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Natural selection is an important force that shapes the evolution of all living things by determining which individuals contribute the most descendents to future generations. The biological unit upon which selection acts has been the subject of serious debate, with reasonable arguments made on behalf of populations, individuals, individual phenotypic characters and, finally, individual genes themselves. In this essay, I argue that the usual unit of selection is the gene. There are powerful logical arguments in favor of this conclusion, as well as many real-world examples. I also explore the possibility that epigenetic differences between individuals may be heritable between generations. Although few such examples exist, epigenetic differences provide an exciting source of potentially heritable variation that may allow rapid evolutionary change to occur, perhaps in response to environmental influences.

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Item Type: Preprint
Sapienza, Carmen
Additional Information: This chapter is paired with Richard Burian, “Selection Does Not Operate Primarily on Genes”. Both are forthcoming in Francisco Ayala and Robert Arp, eds., Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Biology (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009). Two additional chapters to this volume, by Michael Ruse and Francisco Ayala, are also posted in this Archive. Ruse: Ayala: Sapienza: Burian:
Keywords: natural selection, evolution, unit of selection, epigenetic heredity, heritable variation,
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology > Evolutionary Theory
Specific Sciences > Biology
General Issues > Causation
General Issues > Explanation
Depositing User: Richard Burian
Date Deposited: 20 Jun 2008
Last Modified: 07 Oct 2010 15:16
Item ID: 4080

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