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, 83 (4), 621-7

Does Biology Need an Organism Concept?


Does Biology Need an Organism Concept?

John W Pepper et al. Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc.


Among biologists, there is no general agreement on exactly what entities qualify as 'organisms'. Instead, there are multiple competing organism concepts and definitions. While some authors think this is a problem that should be corrected, others have suggested that biology does not actually need an organism concept. We argue that the organism concept is central to biology and should not be abandoned. Both organism concepts and operational definitions are useful. We review criteria used for recognizing organisms and conclude that they are not categorical but rather continuously variable. Different organism concepts are useful for addressing different questions, and it is important to be explicit about which is being used. Finally, we examine the origins of the derived state of organismality, and suggest that it may result from positive feedback between natural selection and functional integration in biological entities.

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