A biological relativity view of the relationships between genomes and phenotypes
This article explores the relativistic principle that there is no privileged scale of causality in biology to clarify the relationships between genomes and phenotypes. The idea that genetic causes are primary views the genome as a program. Initially, that view was vindicated by the discovery of mutations and knockouts that have large and specific effects on the phenotype. But we now know that these form the minority of cases. Many changes at the genome level are buffered by robust networks of interactions in cells, tissues and organs. The 'differential' view of genetics therefore fails because it is too restrictive. An 'integral' view, using reverse engineering from systems biological models to quantify contributions to function, can solve this problem. The article concludes by showing that far from breaking the supervenience principle, downward causation requires that it should be obeyed. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.