Inherited Representations are Read in Development

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Recent theoretical work has identified a tightly constrained sense in which genes carry representational content. Representational properties of the genome are founded in the transmission of DNA over phylogenetic time and its role in natural selection. However, genetic representation is not just relevant to questions of selection and evolution. This article goes beyond existing treatments and argues for the heterodox view that information generated by a process of selection over phylogenetic time can be read in ontogenetic time, in the course of individual development. Recent results in evolutionary biology, drawn both from modelling work, and from experimental and observational data, support a role for genetic representation in explaining individual ontogeny: both genetic representations and environmental information are read by the mechanisms of development, in an individual, so as to lead to adaptive phenotypes. Furthermore, in some cases there appears to have been selection between individuals that rely to different degrees on the two sources of information. Thus, the theory of representation in inheritance systems like the genome is much more than just a coherent reconstruction of information talk in biology. Genetic representation is a property with considerable explanatory utility.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-31
Number of pages31
Issue number1
Early online date29 Feb 2012
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2013


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