"A critical note on the use of the term" phenocopy."

In Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini (ed.), Language and Learning: The Debate Between Jean Piaget and Noam Chomsky. Harvard University Press (1980)
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Abstract

The discovery of the concrete basis for genes, and especially the clarification of mechanisms regulating gene expressions (in particular those that bear on the stepwise processing of hereditary information from the sequences of DNA nucleotides to the proteins) was to give flesh to the concept of a genetic program, for these regulations introduce relationships of order between the various elements of information contained in the genes. These order relations are then revealed during the time-dependent expression of the genetic program. They can lead, in the case of a given program, to a plethora of particular outcomes, because the number of possible combinations rapidly becomes enormous. Since the discoveries of Jacob and Monod, it is clear that the genes specifying the regulatory functions will be responsible for phenotypic variability, especially for the apparently ideal adaptation of a living organism to its environment, and more generally for all the genotype-bound manifestations as they unfold in time. Thus we are led to consider three particular characteristics that allow for the representation of living beings: a program, which summarizes the hereditary constraints and is, in fact, the abstract notion underlying the definition of all individuals in a given class (species); an initial state of the system that represents the context in which the program must express itself at the time of the individual's birth; and a particular outcome of each program, which coincides with individual development. The set of all outcomes constitutes the genetic envelope and allows the essential characteristics of the program to be obtained by induction. Theoretically, a structured set equivalent to the aforementioned one could be reconstructed by providing the program, the initial state, and the totality of the events of the external environment, producing any interaction whatever with the individual. As a consequence, the observation of a phenotype does not tell in any straightforward way, what is the direct consequence of the expression of a particular gene, or of a specific feature of the environment. A phenocopy is a particular example of a phenotype that is the result of a gene expression mimicking a particular gene-directed phenotype, without however corresponding to a pparticular mutation of a known gene.

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Antoine Danchin
University of Hong Kong

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