What is a gene, and what is it for?

Footnotes to Plato

ChromosomesThe gene is a fundamental concept in biology, and it has been since Mendel introduced it in the late 19th century, unbeknownst to Darwin, who was just at the same time looking for a theory of heredity, flirted with Lamarckism, and tiene came up with his own, incorrect, notion of blended inheritance.

Mendel’s work was rediscovered in 1900 (it’s bad for one’s academic career when one publishes in obscure journals and agrees to become an administrator, as the Augustinian friar did), and ever since it has been a crucial component of our understanding of biology. But scientists have developed a number of different concepts of gene, concepts that don’t always sit quite nicely and coherently with each other. Sounds like a job for philosophers of science…

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