Re: Words and Memes

From: Grant Callaghan (
Date: Wed Feb 13 2002 - 17:21:13 GMT

  • Next message: Keith Henson: "Re: Words and Memes"

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    Subject: Re: Words and Memes
    Date: Wed, 13 Feb 2002 09:21:13 -0800
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    >Subject: Re: Words and Memes
    >Date: Wed, 13 Feb 2002 15:27:49 GMT
    > >Genes have a well-defined boundary.
    > >Not true. Biologists are still arguing about what constitutes a gene
    >No, not really. There is fairly good agreement on what contitutes a genes,
    >ie. that it is a protein-coding stretch of DNA, possibly including
    >regulatory elements and introns. Gene-finding algorithms like GENSCAN,
    >Procrustes, Wise etc can even fish a gene out of a gigantic slab of DNA,
    >just by parsing the statistical properties of the sequence in terms of
    >Hidden Markov Models, homologies etc. The gene is so well-defined, even a
    >computer can spot one (and mine does, all day long......)
    >seems to me to be almost as much confusion in the literature defining genes
    >as there is in our effort to define memes. Biologists seem to be having
    >trouble deciding where to draw the line, too.
    >No, there was a lot of serious discussion back in the 50s about what genes
    >were, as the molecular picture replaced the classical Mendelian one, but by
    >the early 80s, 'What is a gene?' had become a question that was only
    >trotted out in undergraduate exams to exercise our knowledge of the various
    >component parts. Even prior to the discovery of DNA there was a fairly
    >rigid definition of a gene in operational terms, ie. its alleles had to be
    >non-complementary, it had to be a true-breeding trait, it had to exhibit
    >the appropriate segregation and assortment ratios in genetic crosses. (more
    >exam question fodder...)
    >I'm not merely being pedantic about biology here, but every now and then
    >somebody will try to justify fuzziness about meme definitions by claiming
    >that gene definitions are just as fuzzy. They aren't.
    Ted, thanks for the update. The books I read don't always have the latest
    information and that may be one of the reasons for my confusion. The field
    is changing so rapidly it's hard to keep up.


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