From: Howard Olson
To: Joe Morlan 93-11-09 11:02:56
Subject: SELFISH GENES
In 1976 Richard Dawkins (Prof of Zoology, Oxford) wrote a book titled :
THE SELFISH GENE (a second edition ,which I have not read , was published
Dawkins was concerned about emphasizing that the only true individual is
the individual DNA molecule and that is what selection acts on. I have
reservations about this because I believe the whole organism or rather,its
phenotype, is what interacts with the environment. The latter is a typical
response for a biologist but Dawkins stature, largely enhanced by this
fascinating book, precludes such a dismissal by the conventional wisdom of
He is intellectually supported by Francis Crick, the Nobel-Prizewinning co-
discoverer of DNA structure who wrote a terrific article in 1980 in Nature
entitled "Selfish DNA".
Crick and Dawkins both believe that a large percentage of the DNA in our
genome (as well as that of other species) which all biologists agree has no
function is really a parasite or "Selfish DNA". This they regard as the
strongest evidence that the single gene is the unit of selection.
In Virology, the application and validity are obvious since we all
probably evolved from RNA genomes not unlike viruses except that they may have
been free living rather than cellular (there were no cells).
But because many biologists still believe the phenotype is the REAL individual
there is some controversy.
I'd love to discuss this more with you, Joe but my time limit is
Hopefully, we can continue later.