Scientists Discover Evidence of Selfish Gene

June 23, 2008 06:15 PM
by Rachel Balik
Scientists studying honeybee colonies have isolated the gene responsible for reproductive altruism.

30-Second Summary

In 1976, biologist Richard Dawkins put forth the theory of the “selfish gene,” the idea that genes program specific behaviors that will increase the possibility that those genes will be passed on. Although there was no cohesive scientific evidence to back the theory up at the time, it was widely accepted as a logical addition to Darwin’s theory of evolution.

A 2006 London Times review suggests that “Dawkins’s tour de force, then, was to mine the ore of technical genetic theory from scattered scientific journals and forge it into a powerful, unified conceptual structure—the gene’s eye view—that was coherent, comprehensible to everyone and an inspiration for further work.”  Now, it has inspired enough “further work” that evidence supporting the theory appears to have been found.

Honeybees reproduce via “a complex social breeding system described as a ‘super-organism.’” In this system, all female bees except the queen bee are sterile. Rather than reproduce themselves, they work to protect the queen bee and ensure the safety of her offspring. The practice is known as “reproductive altruism” and is described in Dawkins’s book. Scientists at the University of Western Ontario are close to isolating a selfish gene that appears to control the worker bees’ sterility.

Headline Link: ‘Discovery proves “selfish gene” exists’

Background: How “The Selfish Gene” Changed Science

Reference: Honeybees and ‘The Selfish Gene’


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