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Q Rev Biol. 1993 Jun;68(2):173-223.

The concept of the gene: short history and present status.

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Department of Biology, University of Turku, Finland.


The concept of the gene is and has always been a continuously evolving one. In order to provide a structure for understanding the concept, its history is divided into classical, neoclassical, and modern periods. The classical view prevailed into the 1930s, and conceived the gene as an indivisible unit of genetic transmission, recombination, mutation, and function. The discovery of intragenic recombination in the early 1940s and the establishment of DNA as the physical basis of inheritance led to the neoclassical concept of the gene, which prevailed until the 1970s. In this view the gene (or cistron, as it was called then) was subdivided into its constituent parts, mutons and recons, identified as nucleotides. Each cistron was believed to be responsible for the synthesis of a single mRNA and hence for one polypeptide. This colinearity hypothesis prevailed from 1955 to the 1970s. Starting from the early 1970s, DNA technologies have led to the modern period of gene conceptualization, wherein none of the classical or neoclassical criteria are sufficient to define a gene. Modern discoveries include those of repeated genes, split genes and alternative splicing, assembled genes, overlapping genes, transposable genes, complex promoters, multiple polyadenylation sites, polyprotein genes, editing of the primary transcript, and nested genes. We are currently left with a rather abstract, open, and generalized concept of the gene, even though our comprehension of the structure and organization of the genetic material has greatly increased.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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