Redefining Genes

January 21, 2008
For nearly 50 years, the central dogma of biology has been that genetic information is contained within DNA and is passed by rote transcription through RNA to make proteins. Tiny changes in the information content of the underlying DNA are what then drive evolution. But this information may not be the sole determinant of biological identity. Indeed, it's becoming clear that we do not even know what 'genetic information' means any more—certainly it's not a simple, linear sequence of biochemical 'characters' that define a gene. Even evolution might not be driven solely by the appearance of random mutations in DNA that are inherited by subsequent generations, essentially as Darwin supposed. The central dogma is being eroded, and it now appears as if DNA's cousin, the humble intermediary RNA, plays at least an equal role in genetics and the evolution of the species.

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