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Nat Rev Genet. 2011 Mar;12(3):193-203. doi: 10.1038/nrg2903. Epub 2011 Feb 8.

The sociobiology of molecular systems.

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Department of Zoology, Oxford University, South Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3PS, UK.


It is often assumed that molecular systems are designed to maximize the competitive ability of the organism that carries them. In reality, natural selection acts on both cooperative and competitive phenotypes, across multiple scales of biological organization. Here I ask how the potential for social effects in evolution has influenced molecular systems. I discuss a range of phenotypes, from the selfish genetic elements that disrupt genomes, through metabolism, multicellularity and cancer, to behaviour and the organization of animal societies. I argue that the balance between cooperative and competitive evolution has shaped both form and function at the molecular scale.

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