Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 29, Issue 1, pp 55–69 | Cite as

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

  • Alexis De Tiège
  • Koen Tanghe
  • Johan Braeckman
  • Yves Van de Peer


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 unidirectionally flows or radiates into cellular biochemistry and development. Today, due 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 problematic. 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 traditional 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’ confined to the subcellular level of NA/protein-based biochemistry. Finally, we explore the conditions—and their (non)fulfilment—for a more generalised form of gene-centrism extendable to higher levels of biological organisation. We conclude that the higher we go in the biological hierarchy, the more dubious gene-centric claims become.


The Weismann barrier The central dogma Reverse transcription The absence of reverse translation From DNA- to NA-centrism The conditions for gene-centrism Gene-de-centrism 



We are grateful to an anonymous reviewer for extensive comments on an earlier version of the paper, to Kim Sterelny for additional comments and suggestions, and to Linda Van Speybroeck for both constructive criticism and support during previous stages of the paper. Preparation of the manuscript was made possible by the Special Research Fund (BOF), Ghent University (Project Number: B/11196/02) and by the Fund for Scientific Research Flanders (FWO), Belgium (Project Number: G001013N).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alexis De Tiège
    • 1
  • Koen Tanghe
    • 1
  • Johan Braeckman
    • 1
  • Yves Van de Peer
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Philosophy and Moral ScienceGhent UniversityGhentBelgium
  2. 2.Department of Plant Systems BiologyVIBGhentBelgium
  3. 3.Department of Plant Biotechnology and BioinformaticsGhent UniversityGhentBelgium

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