Selfish Gene: Definition, Types, & Examples

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Selfish Gene Definition

A selfish gene does not cause an individual to be selfish. It may even be used to demonstrate a selfless deed, which is a sign of altruism. Selfish gene elements (also known as selfish DNA) are nucleotide sequences that duplicate themselves in the genome. They are thought to be ineffective because they do not produce a protein product. They may even be harmful at times. Selfish genes, on the other hand, are critical to the species’ overall survival.

Selfish Gene Theory and Evolution

The phrase “selfish gene” was invented by Richard Dawkin. In his book “The Selfish Gene,” which he wrote and published in 1976, he presented a gene-centric theory of evolution. “Genes battle directly with their alleles for persistence,” according to an excerpt from his book, “since their alleles in the gene pool are rivals for their position on the chromosomes of subsequent generations.” “A gene is said to be tautologous if it operates in such a way to increase its own chances of survival within the gene pool at the expense of its alleles. The fundamental unit of selfishness is the gene.”

What is Selfish Gene?

A gene, according to Dawkin, is a fragment of chromosome that is short enough to live and operate for a long time. He highlights that “a gene is a key element of survival.” Genes, according to this theory, are selfish in the sense that they compete for survival. They multiply by producing copies that should be handed on through the generations. And we, as living creatures, are only a vessel for them, a transient vehicle that transports them to the next vess.

We are the survival machines, and they are the replicators. We are discarded when we have served our usefulness. Genes, on the other hand, are eternal residents of geological time. -Dawkin, Robert.

As a result, a selfish gene would compete for a place on the organism’s genome (loci). Those that produce copies of themselves efficiently will likely rise in number and survive in the gene pool, while those who are less effective in the competition will likely decline in number.

Selfish Gene and Altruism

A selfish gene, despite its egoistic look, prefers altruism, especially when doing so will help its copies in other members of the species survive. Altruism is a collection of behaviors displaying apparently unselfish conduct for the benefit or well-being of others that may be seen in a wide range of species, from ants to humans. As a result, even if the altruistic behaviour ultimately harms a person, it is still helpful to a selfish gene since more of its duplicates in other individuals may survive.

Selfish Gene Elements

Selfish gene elements (also known as selfish DNA) are nucleotide sequences that duplicate themselves in the genome. They do not always contribute to the organism’s reproductive success or provide substantial benefits. They may even be harmful at times. Researchers have just sequenced two selfish genes from the fungus Neurospora intermedia for the primary time. A spore with the selfish gene known as the “spore killer” would destroy its sibling spores that did not have the gene.

A selfish gene element discovered by UCLA researchers in a strain of the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans is another example. They discovered a pair of self-serving genes, one of which encodes for a poison and the other for its antidote. The baby that does not inherit the antidote gene dies while still an embryo because it is unable to protect itself from the mother’s poison (toxin).

Selfish Gene Implications

These research on selfish genes suggest that there are likely to be many more of them lurking in plain sight. It’s possible that discovering them will lead to major applications in the future. Selfish genes, for example, may be utilised as a genetic control to prevent parasite growth at the molecular level.

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