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Conceptual and empirical challenges of ascribing functions to transposable elements

Elliott, Tyler A. and Linquist, Stefan and Gregory, T. Ryan (2014) Conceptual and empirical challenges of ascribing functions to transposable elements. [Preprint]

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Abstract

The media attention and subsequent scientific backlash engendered by the claim, announced by spokespeople for the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements project (ENCODE), that 80% of the human genome has a “biochemical function” highlights the need for a clearer understanding of function concepts in biology. This article provides an overview of two major function concepts that have been developed in the philosophy of science – the “causal role” concept and the “selected effects” concept – and their relevance to ENCODE. Unlike some previous critiques, the ENCODE project is not considered problematic because it employed a causal role definition of function (which is relatively common in genetics), but because of how this concept was misused. In addition, several unique challenges that arise when dealing with transposable elements (TEs), but which were ignored by ENCODE, are highlighted. These include issues surrounding TE-level versus organism-level selection, the origins versus the persistence of elements, and accidental versus functional organism-level benefits. Finally, some key questions are presented that should be addressed in any studies aiming to ascribe functions to major portions of large eukaryotic genomes, the majority of which is made up of transposable elements.


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Item Type: Preprint
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Elliott, Tyler A.telliott@uoguelph.ca
Linquist, Stefanlinquist@uoguelph.ca
Gregory, T. Ryanrgregory@uoguelph.ca
Keywords: causal role, ENCODE, genome size, junk DNA, selected effects, transposons
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology
Specific Sciences > Biology > Evolutionary Theory
Specific Sciences > Biology > Function/Teleology
Specific Sciences > Biology > Molecular Biology/Genetics
Depositing User: Dr Stefan Linquist
Date Deposited: 26 Aug 2015 14:48
Last Modified: 26 Aug 2015 14:48
Item ID: 11636
Official URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/676588?Search=...
DOI or Unique Handle: https://doi.org/10.1086/676588
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology
Specific Sciences > Biology > Evolutionary Theory
Specific Sciences > Biology > Function/Teleology
Specific Sciences > Biology > Molecular Biology/Genetics
Date: July 2014
URI: https://philsci-archive-dev.library.pitt.edu/id/eprint/11636

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