From DNA- to NA-centrism and the conditions for gene-centrism revisited

First the ‘Weismann barrier’ and later on Francis Crick’s ‘central dogma’ of molecular biology nourished the gene-centric paradigm of life, i.e., the conception of the gene/genome as a ‘central source’ from which hereditary specificity unidi- rectionally flows or radiates into cellular biochemistry and development. Today,to advances in molecular genetics and epigenetics, such as the discovery of complex post-genomic and epigenetic processes in which genes are causally integrated, many theorists argue that a gene-centric conception of the organism has become prob- lematic. Here, we first explore the causal implications of the following two central dogma-related issues: (1) widespread reverse transcription—arguing for an extension from ‘DNA-genome’ to RNA-encompassing ‘NA-genome’ and, thus, from tradi- tional DNA-centrism to a broader ‘NA-centrism’; and (2) the absence of a mechanism of reverse translation—arguing for the ‘structural primacy’ of NA-sequence over protein in cellular biochemistry. Secondly, we explore whether this latter conclusion can be extended to a ‘functional primacy’ of NA-sequence over protein in cellular biochemistry, which would imply a limited kind of ‘gene/NA-centrism’ confinedthe subcellular level of NA/protein-based biochemistry. Finally, we exploreconditions—and their (non)fulfilment—for a more generalised form of gene-centrism extendable to higher levels of biological organisation. We conclude that the highergo in the biological hierarchy, the more dubious gene-centric claims become.

De Tiège, A., Tanghe, K., Braeckman, J., Van de Peer, Y. (2013) From DNA- to NA-centrism and the conditions for gene-centrism revisited. Biol. Philos. 29(1):55-69.

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