Genomic imprinting and the units of adaptation

A. Gardner*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Two guiding principles identify which biological entities are able to evolve adaptations. Williams' principle holds that, in order for an entity to evolve adaptations, there must be selection between such entities. Maynard Smith's principle holds that, in order for an entity to evolve adaptations, selection within such entities must be absent or negligible. However, although the kinship theory of genomic imprinting suggests that parent-of-origin-specific gene expression evolves as a consequence of natural selection acting between-rather than within-individuals, it evades adaptive interpretation at the individual level and is instead viewed as an outcome of an intragenomic conflict of interest between an individual's genes. Here, I formalize the idea that natural selection drives intragenomic conflicts of interest between genes originating from different parents. Specifically, I establish mathematical links between the dynamics of natural selection and the idea of the gene as an intentional, inclusive-fitness-maximizing agent, and I clarify the role that information about parent of origin plays in mediating conflicts of interest between genes residing in the same genome. These results highlight that the suppression of divisive information may be as important as the suppression of lower levels of selection in maintaining the integrity of units of adaptation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)104-111
Number of pages8
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2014


  • gene
  • group selection
  • kin selection
  • inclusive fitness
  • multi-level selection
  • organism
  • GENE


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