Few concepts played a more important role in twentieth-century life sciences than that of the gene. Yet at this moment, the field of genetics is undergoing radical conceptual transformation, and some scientists are questioning the very usefulness of the concept of the gene, arguing instead for more systemic perspectives.
The time could not be better, therefore, for Hans-Jorg Rheinberger and Staffan Muller-Wille's magisterial history of the concept of the gene. Though the gene has long been the central organizing theme of biology, both conceptually and as an object of study, Rheinberger and Muller-Wille conclude that we have never even had a universally accepted, stable definition of it. Rather, the concept has been in continual flux—a state that, they contend, is typical of historically important and productive scientific concepts. It is that very openness to change and manipulation, the authors argue, that made it so useful: its very mutability enabled it to be useful while the technologies and approaches used to study and theorize about it changed dramatically.
Hans-JorgRheinberger is emeritus director at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin.
Staffan Muller-Wille is associate professor and codirector of the Egenis Centre for the Study of the Life Sciences at the University of Exeter.
1 The Gene: A Concept in Flux
2 The Legacy of the Nineteenth Century
3 Mendel’s Findings
4 From Crossing to Mapping: Classical Gene Concepts
5 Classical Genetics Stretches Its Limits
6 Constructing and Deconstructing the Molecular Gene
7 The Toolkit of Gene Technology
8 Development and the Evolving Genome
9 Postgenomics, Systems Biology, Synthetic Biology
10 The Future of the Gene