Sociological approaches to ecological uncertainty (version 2)
Genotype and phenotype

One particular problem in biology is the difference between an organism's genetic code (its genotype) and its physical form (its phenotype). This has consequences to four main areas of ecology.

1. Developmental biology: the differences between individual cells in a multicellular organism.

2. Population genetics: the differences between individual organisms in a sexually or asexually reproducing population.

3. Population ecology: the differences between species in an ecosystem.

4. Evolution: the historical genealogy of species.

In practice these areas overlap in many ecologies.

Some examples:
Interactions between nuclear, mitocondrial, and chloroplast codes in eukaryotic cells. Budding in slime-molds. Bacterial ecologies such as bio-films. Intracellular communication in chemical, hormonal and neural systems such as in the heart and the brain. Protein computation in living cells. Metabolic diversity in bacteria. Social behaviour in a wide range of animals.

The above definitions provide a useful framework with which to contrast various biological theories.

Some historical examples:
Recapitulation, the idea that development (ontology) mirrors evolution (phylogeny).
Differences between Darwinian evolution and Mendelian genetics.
The mathematical influences in the Synthetic Theory contributed by Haldane, Wright, and Fisher.
Ecological influences contributed by Mayr and Dobzhansky.
Arguments over classification (taxonomy); old arguments currently resurfacing in the classification of the Cambrian radiation.)

Some current positions of importance can be characterised as follows:
Please note: these are brief notes about some aspects that may be linked be some authors, I do not intend these notes to be exhaustive.

1. Genetic determinism.
Belief in the central dogma; that DNA transfers its information from DNA to RNA to primary protein structure. Belief that protein form can be deduced from primary protein structure. Belief that protein form determines biochemical function.

This viewpoint has two main influences on human ecologies. Firstly in health, in the hope for the prediction and cure of genetically carried dieseases. Secondly in agriculture, in the hope for economic and ecological benefits from high-yielding varieties or genetically modified organisms. These hopes are criticised by Shiva and Ho, but supported by Mayr. Sociological criticism might not be heeded if it catagorises this position as essentialist. In biology, essentialism signifies one its old opponents: creationism.

2. Environmentalism.
Belief that diversity leads to reproductive continuation. Population thinking. Environmental and ecosystem interactions between organisms - this may affect definitions of biological 'fitness'.

3. Non-genetic inheritance.
Neo- Lamarkism, developmental privilege, DNA methylation, cultural inheritance.

4. Computational biology.

Question: how is phenotype organised?


  1. Computational approaches in biology. - Mathematics and Biology
  2. Symbolic codes in computation. Godel's theory - Turing machine version.
  3. Directories, hierarchies and set theory. Some differences between the ways in which computers like to represent information and the ways in which information finds itself organised. - (just pictures at the moment - 5/7/99)

1. Symbolic codes
2. Syntagmatics
3. Classification and perfect language. The librarian's problem.

1. Reflective, Intentional, and Constructive Theories of Representation
2. Foucault and the material bodies of power/knowledge.
3. Definitions of "Natural" and "Artificial".

Linguistic approaches to phenotype

Analysing an organism as a system of interacting symbolic languages.
High-energy myth.
Physical identity - Symbolic identity. Context
Reflective, Intentional and Constructive revisited - genetic and environmental determinism.

Question: what are the meanings of calcium in phenotypic organisation?

Links to other sites...

Written 16/5/99
Created 30/5/99
Modified 5/7/99