Genes, genomes, and codes: Revisiting some key terms with multiple meanings

Evelyn Fox Keller


Is a genome the full complement of an organism’s genes or of its DNA? Is genetics the study of genes or of heredity? Is the genetic code the mechanism for translating nucleotide sequence to amino acid sequence or to phenotype? Does «genetic information» refer to the sequences coding for proteins or to all DNA sequences? Each of these questions stems from an elision between one, concrete, meaning, and another, open-ended and ambiguous. Such elision invites the illusion that the ambiguity of the open-ended term has been resolved, and by implication, that the gap between actual achievement and promise has been closed. Yet, despite the phenomenal progress molecular biology has made, we remain without an adequate account of the organization of proteins into an organism. 


code; codescript; central dogma; genetic information; genes and genomes

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