Gene network polymorphism is the raw material of natural selection: The selfish gene network hypothesis

Research output: Article

13 Citations (Scopus)


Population genetics, the mathematical theory of modern evolutionary biology, defines evolution as the alteration of the frequency of distinct gene variants (alleles) differing in fitness over the time. The major problem with this view is that in gene and protein sequences we can find little evidence concerning the molecular basis of phenotypic variance, especially those that would confer adaptive benefit to the bearers. Some novel data, however, suggest that a large amount of genetic variation exists in the regulatory region of genes within populations. In addition, comparison of homologous DNA sequences of various species shows that evolution appears to depend more strongly on gene expression than on the genes themselves. Furthermore, it has been demonstrated in several systems that genes form functional networks, whose products exhibit interrelated expression profiles. Finally, it has been found that regulatory circuits of development behave as evolutionary units. These data demonstrate that our view of evolution calls for a new synthesis. In this article I propose a novel concept, termed the selfish gene network hypothesis, which is based on an overall consideration of the above findings. The major statements of this hypothesis are as follows. (1) Instead of individual genes, gene networks (GNs) are responsible for the determination of traits and behaviors. (2) The primary source of microevolution is the intraspecific polymorphism in GNs and not the allelic variation in either the coding or the regulatory sequences of individual genes. (3) GN polymorphism is generated by the variation in the regulatory regions of the component genes and not by the variance in their coding sequences. (4) Evolution proceeds through continuous restructuring of the composition of GNs rather than fixing of specific alleles or GN variants.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)340-357
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Molecular Evolution
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - szept. 1 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics

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