The Extended Phenotype  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Extended Phenotype is a biological concept introduced by Richard Dawkins in a 1982 book with the same title. The main idea is that phenotype should not be limited to biological processes such as protein biosynthesis or tissue growth, but extended to include all effects that a gene has on its environment, inside or outside of the body of the individual organism.

Dawkins considers the Extended Phenotype to be his principal contribution to evolutionary theory.

Contents

Genes synthesize only proteins

In the main portion of the book, Dawkins argues that the only thing that genes control directly is the synthesis of proteins. He points to the arbitrariness of restricting the idea of the phenotype to apply only to the phenotypic expression of an organism's genes in its own body.

Genes affect the organism’s environment

Dawkins develops this idea by pointing to the effect that a gene may have on an organism's environment through that organism's behaviour, citing as examples caddis houses and beaver dams. He then goes further to point to first animal morphology and ultimately animal behaviour, which can seem advantageous not to the animal itself, but rather to a parasite which afflicts it. Dawkins summarizes these ideas in what he terms the Central Theorem of the Extended Phenotype:

An animal's behaviour tends to maximize the survival of the genes "for" that behaviour, whether or not those genes happen to be in the body of the particular animal performing it.

Gene-centred view of life

In conducting this argument, Dawkins aims to strengthen the case for a gene-centric view of life, to the point where it is recognized that the organism itself needs to be explained. This is the challenge which he takes up in the final chapter entitled "Rediscovering the Organism."

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Extended Phenotype" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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