What Is Genetics?

There is enough storage capacity in the DNA of a single lily seed or a single salamander sperm to store the Encyclopædia Britannica 60 times over. Some species of the unjustly called ‘primitive’ amoebas have as much information in their DNA as 1,000 Encyclopædia Britannicas.

- Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker

Podcast of the Day

You might think that, if anybody owns your genes, it’s you, but if you know anything about your genes it will be because of professional gene testing. And in cases of a genetically transmitted disorder, should genetic counsellors breach patient confidentiality to disclose the results of genetic tests to relatives who are likely to be affected by the same disorder? Is genetic information personal information, which belongs to the patient being tested, or does it belong to all the patient’s genetic relations?

Listen to The Philosopher's Zone episode: Who owns your genes?

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Short Article of the Day

Over the past 25 years, scientists have supported the view that modern humans left Africa around 50,000 years ago, spreading to different parts of the world by replacing resident human species like the Neanderthals. However, rapid advances in genetic sequencing have opened up a whole new window into the past, suggesting that human history is much more complicated.

In fact, genetic studies in the last few years have revealed that since our African exodus, humans have moved and mixed a lot more than previously thought – particularly over the last 10,000 years...

Continue reading George Busby's article: Here's how genetics helped crack the history of human migration

Further Reading

“There can be little doubt,” philosopher and biochemist Lenny Moss claimed in 2003, “that the idea of ‘the gene’ has been the central organizing theme of twentieth century biology” (Moss 2003, xiii; cf. Keller 2000, 9). And yet it is clear that the science of genetics never provided one generally accepted definition of the gene. More than a hundred years of genetic research have rather resulted in the proliferation of a variety of gene concepts, which sometimes complement, sometimes contradict each other. Some philosophers and scientists have tried to remedy this situation by reducing this variety of gene concepts, either “vertically” to a fundamental unit, or “horizontally” by subsuming them under a general term. Others have opted for more pluralist stances. As a consequence, “the gene” has become a hot topic in philosophy of science around which questions of reduction, emergence, or supervenience of concepts and theories (along with the epistemic entities they refer to) are lively debated. So far, however, all attempts to reach a consensus regarding these questions have been unsuccessful. Today, since the completion of the human genome sequence and the beginning of what is being called the era of postgenomics, genetics is again experiencing a time of conceptual change. The concept of the gene, emerging out of a century of genetic research, has been and continues to be, as Raphael Falk has reminded us not so long ago, a “concept in tension"...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article: Gene by Rheinberger, Muller-Wille, and Meunier

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