Philosophical Themes in Metagenomics
Maureen O'Malley and John Dupré
from: Metagenomics: Theory, Methods and Applications (Edited by: Diana Marco). Caister Academic Press, U.K. (2010)
From a philosophical point of view, metagenomics offers a wealth of ontological and epistemological insights. Ontologically, metagenomics has implications for how we understand biological entities and their functions, as inquiry extends from more traditionally bounded entities, such as molecules and organisms, to multi-level communities interacting with planetary chemistry and geology. We will focus in particular on how metagenomics affects concepts of organism and living entity, and the connections between the older notion of superorganism and the emerging one of metaorganism. When examined within an evolutionary framework, the concepts of metagenome and metaorganism may also transform the way in which evolutionary processes are understood, especially in regard to the nature of competitive and cooperative interactions between different entities. In addition to generating fundamental questions about biological ontology, metagenomics is leading a transformation of standard life-science epistemology into multi-level systems-based understanding. Metagenomics also raises questions about the relationships between hypothesis-driven and data-driven science, and how biological meaning develops out of metagenomic sequence. Overall, we conclude, metagenomics is a scientific approach that vindicates pluralism and has profound philosophical implications for fields within and without the life sciences read more ...