HPSM Lecture - David Queller - Washington University in St. Louis

Title: The social gene: The elements of selection, transmission, and evolution

Abstract:  Biologists and philosophers have long debated the units of selection. Richard Dawkins gave priority to the gene because of its immortality.  Others like, like Ernst Mayr, have instead emphasized the unity of the selected individual.  David Hull suggested that these are both important, calling the first replicators and the second interactors.  I present a progress report on a project that takes a new tack on this problem. There are sufficient differences in my approach that I will refer not to the units of selection but to the elements of selection, transmission, and evolution.  Instead of assuming a vertical or multilevel structure, I will use a horizontal one: Dawkins’ gene’s-eye view that considers a focal gene and treats everything else, including other genes, as part of its environment.  I then apply Alan Templeton’s suggestion that units/elements of selection ought to involve identifying only the causal components that are necessary to predict or describe selective change. I show that elements of genic evolution can be defined as the product or intersection of elements of selection and elements of co-transmission or genetic structure.  An element of evolution needs to be added whenever it has both distinct effects on fitness and distinct patterns of structure.  I attempt to show how this logic applies to all kinds of interactions with the focal gene: with other alleles at its locus, with other loci, with other individuals of the same species, and with individuals of other species.