Don’t lose sight of the environment’s impact on gene expression

In his book The Triple Helix, Richard Lewontin told the story of the molecular biologist and Nobel laureate Sydney Brenner, who – while speaking at a conference – predicted that one day we would be able to “compute” an organism (2002). All we would need are two things: the organism’s full genome and powerful enough computers that were up to the task.

To go back to Brenner, I don’t know what else he said that day, so it isn’t fair to caricature the rest of his comments as quite so reductionist. If asked, I think he would acknowledge that if we play the scenario out, we are immediately confronted by the fact that there is no vacuum. All organisms must reside somewhere, or – more realistically – many somewheres over a lifetime. And, whatever the genome is, environmental circumstances can have profound influences on phenotypes.

Read the full, original story: Developmental Plasticity and the “Hard-Wired” Problem

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