International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

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MONDAY, JULY 6  /  15:30 - 17:00  /  DS-1520
Organized session / diverse format
Representations of biological inheritance: A roundtable

Francesca Merlin (IHPST/ Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, France)


Staffan Müller-Wille (Exeter University, United Kingdom)
Gregory Radick (University of Leeds, United Kingdom)
Leïla Perié (Institut Curie, France)
Anne-Cécile Dagaeff (Université Toulouse 3, France)
Gaëlle Pontarotti (IHPST/ Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, France)
Livio Riboli-Sasco (L'Atelier des Jours à Venir, France)

The present roundtable aims at raising a multidisciplinary discussion about the evolution of representations of biological inheritance, since the introduction of this concept in biology in the first half of the nineteenth century, as well as about possible directions its representation could – and should – take in the light of recent advances in research on non-genetic forms of transmission. In fact, several non-genetic factors and mechanisms have been found to be transmitted between organisms, such as modifications in gene expression due to changes in histones and chromatin conformation and in methylation patterns, modifications in behaviours due to parental influences, changes in the selective pressures due to activities of niche construction, and variation transmitted via social learning.

The roundtable is composed of six short presentations (10 minute long each) followed by a general discussion (30 minutes). We intend to focus the presentations on graphical representations of inheritance (drawings, images, illustrations, graphs, etc.). However, the roundtable is also open to other kinds of representation broadly speaking, such as theoretical models and conceptions of inheritance, that actually are essential in order to describe the way representations of inheritance have evolved as well as to fuel the debate about future directions of its representation.

During this roundtable, we wish to open a multidisciplinary debate on the issue at stake. This is the reason why we have decided to put together researchers coming from different disciplines: history of biology, biology, and philosophy of biology. They will intervene in the following order:

1-Staffan Müller-Wille will propose a classification of inheritance systems based on the variety of metaphors that have been employed to capture phenomena of transgenerational persistence and variation of traits.
2-Gregory Radick will talk about some interpretive questions arising from Francis Galton's use of the quincunx in the 1870s and 80s as a representation of his ideas about how inheritance worked.
3-Leïla Perié will talk about the similarities in the representation of cell differentiation and extended inheritance comparing their conceptual basis.
4-Anne-Cécile Dagaeff will deal with the transmission of behaviors in animals, focusing on the transmission of female mate preferences and its representations.
5-Gaëlle Pontarotti will introduce a physiological representation of extended inheritance, in which inherited items appear as heterogeneous agents of physiological exchanges, channeling flows of matter and energy across generations of composite organized systems.
6-Livio Riboli-Sasco, in collaboration with Francesca Merlin, will present illustrations which are an attempt to facilitate the understanding of the separation between transmission mechanisms from mechanisms of inheritance. These illustrations shall make it clear that these different processes could be associated with different dynamics of adaptation, while current representations of extended inheritance often confound various evolutionary dynamical regimes.