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This month we delved into a classic, first published more than 40 years ago in 19761. The phrase The Selfish Gene has itself become a meme, a term coined by Richard Dawkins in this, his first book. The application (and misapplication) of the phrase is prevalent today beyond anything Dawkins could have imagined. A common misconception is that because of our ‘selfish genes’, animal behaviour is determined purely by factors that contribute to our genes’ survival into the next generation. In fact, Dawkins is meticulous in explaining his actual meaning that genes behave ‘as if’ they were selfish. This does not mean that the organisms in which they reside are selfish themselves. Indeed, some of the most fascinating examples of animal behaviour he describes are those in which altruistic characteristics confer an evolutionary advantage, and thus spread through the gene pool.
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