Context #6 (Fall,
2001, pp. 15-19); copyright 2001 by The Nature Institute
In April, 1999, the prestigious journal, Science, informed its
readers that "shortfalls in reductionism are increasingly apparent ....
The much-used axiom that scientists 'know more and more about less and
less' may have an element of truth .... Another problem is oversimplification.
Witness the 'gene-for' syndrome (as in 'gene for intelligence' or 'gene
for sexual preference'), in which genes that contribute to human traits
are instead taken to specify that trait" (Gallagher and Appenzeller 1999,
These remarks occur in a special issue of Science devoted to
complex systems. A news article in that issue carries the point
about genes further:
"The expression of individual genes is not being regulated
by one, two, or five proteins but by dozens," says Shirley Tilghman, a
molecular biologist at Princeton University. Some regulate specific genes;
others work more broadly. Some sit on DNA all the time, while others bind
temporarily. "The complexity is becoming mind numbing," says Tilghman.
"When we get to a certain network complexity," adds Adam Arkin, a physical
chemist at Lawrence Berkeley Natio