The sociobiology of genes: the gene’s eye view as a unifying behavioural-ecological framework for biological evolution

  • Alexis De Tiège
  • Yves Van de Peer
  • Johan Braeckman
  • Koen B. Tanghe
Original Paper
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Darwin in the Humanities and the Social Sciences


Although classical evolutionary theory, i.e., population genetics and the Modern Synthesis, was already implicitly ‘gene-centred’, the organism was, in practice, still generally regarded as the individual unit of which a population is composed. The gene-centred approach to evolution only reached a logical conclusion with the advent of the gene-selectionist or gene’s eye view in the 1960s and 1970s. Whereas classical evolutionary theory can only work with (genotypically represented) fitness differences between individual organisms, gene-selectionism is capable of working with fitness differences among genes within the same organism and genome. Here, we explore the explanatory potential of ‘intra-organismic’ and ‘intra-genomic’ gene-selectionism, i.e., of a behavioural-ecological ‘gene’s eye view’ on genetic, genomic and organismal evolution. First, we give a general outline of the framework and how it complements the—to some extent—still ‘organism-centred’ approach of classical evolutionary theory. Secondly, we give a more in-depth assessment of its explanatory potential for biological evolution, i.e., for Darwin’s ‘common descent with modification’ or, more specifically, for ‘historical continuity or homology with modular evolutionary change’ as it has been studied by evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo) during the last few decades. In contrast with classical evolutionary theory, evo-devo focuses on ‘within-organism’ developmental processes. Given the capacity of gene-selectionism to adopt an intra-organismal gene’s eye view, we outline the relevance of the latter model for evo-devo. Overall, we aim for the conceptual integration between the gene’s eye view on the one hand, and more organism-centred evolutionary models (both classical evolutionary theory and evo-devo) on the other.


Classical evolutionary theory Evo-devo Organism’s versus gene’s eye view Intra-organismic and intra-genomic conflict Behavioural-ecological modelling of gene and genome evolution Evolutionarily stable strategy (ESS) Hierarchical organization 



We thank two anonymous reviewers and Staffan Müller-Wille for valuable input into this paper. Preparation of this manuscript was made possible by the Fund for Scientific Research Flanders (FWO), Belgium (Project Number: G001013N).


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy and Moral ScienceGhent UniversityGhentBelgium
  2. 2.Department of Plant Biotechnology and BioinformaticsVIB & Ghent UniversityGhentBelgium

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