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Between the cross and the sword: the crisis of the gene concept

DOI: 10.1590/S1415-47572007000300001

Keywords: gene, classical molecular gene concept, mendelian gene, genomic complexity.

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challenges to the gene concept have shown the difficulty of preserving the classical molecular concept, according to which a gene is a stretch of dna encoding a functional product (polypeptide or rna). the main difficulties are related to the overlaying of the mendelian idea of the gene as a ?unit?: the interpretation of genes as structural and/or functional units in the genome is challenged by evidence showing the complexity and diversity of genomic organization. this paper discusses the difficulties faced by the classical molecular concept and addresses alternatives to it. among the alternatives, it considers distinctions between different gene concepts, such as that between the ?molecular? and the ?evolutionary? gene, or between ?gene-p? (the gene as determinant of phenotypic differences) and ?gene-d? (the gene as developmental resource). it also addresses the process molecular gene concept, according to which genes are understood as the whole molecular process underlying the capacity to express a particular product, rather than as entities in ?bare? dna; a treatment of genes as sets of domains (exons, introns, promoters, enhancers, etc.) in dna; and a systemic understanding of genes as combinations of nucleic acid sequences corresponding to a product specified or demarcated by the cellular system. in all these cases, possible contributions to the advancement of our understanding of the architecture and dynamics of the genetic material are emphasized.


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