GMO news related to United Kingdom

03.01.2019 |

The Rise and Fall of Gene-as-God: It’s the End of the Gene As We Know It

We are not nearly as determined by our genes as once thought.

We’ve all seen the stark headlines: “Being Rich and Successful Is in Your DNA” (Guardian, July 12); “A New Genetic Test Could Help Determine Children’s Success” (Newsweek, July 10); “Our Fortunetelling Genes” make us (Wall Street Journal, Nov. 16); and so on.

The problem is, many of these headlines are not discussing real genes at all, but a crude statistical model of them, involving dozens of unlikely assumptions. Now, slowly but surely, that whole conceptual model of the gene is being challenged.

We have reached peak gene, and passed it.


In a paper in Physics of Life Reviews in 2013, James Shapiro describes how cells and organisms are capable of “natural genetic engineering.” That is, they frequently alter their own DNA sequences, rewriting their own genomes throughout life. The startling implication is that the gene as popularly conceived—a blueprint on a strand of DNA, determining development and its variations—does not really exist.

So it is, in a review in the journal Genetics in 2017, that the geneticists Petter Portin and Adam Wilkins question “the utility of the concept of a basic ‘unit of inheritance’ and the long implicit belief that genes are autonomous agents.” They show that “the classic molecular definition [is] obsolete.”

These radical revisions of the gene concept need to reach the general public soon—before past social policy mistakes are repeated.