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Stud Hist Philos Biol Biomed Sci. 2018 Dec;72:28-37. doi: 10.1016/j.shpsc.2018.10.008. Epub 2018 Oct 29.

ENCODE and the parts of the human genome.

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Bielefeld University, Department of Philosophy, Postfach 10 01 31, D-33501, Bielefeld, Germany. Electronic address:


This paper examines a specific kind of part-whole relations that exist in the molecular genetic domain. The central question is under which conditions a particular molecule, such as a DNA sequence, is a biological part of the human genome. I address this question by analyzing how biologists in fact partition the human genome into parts. This paper thus presents a case study in the metaphysics of biological practice. I develop a metaphysical account of genomic parthood by analyzing the investigative and reasoning practices in the ENCODE (ENCyclopedia Of DNA Elements) project. My account reveals two conditions that determine whether a molecule is a part of the human genome (i.e., a genomic part). First, genomic parts must possess a causal role function in the genome as a whole, that is, their functions must contribute to the genome directing the overall functioning of the cell. Second, genomic parts must have a specific chemical structure and be actual segments of the DNA sequence of the genome.


Causal role function; ENCODE; Genome; Part-whole relation; Structure

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