Ingenious Genes

From Life and Mind: Philosophical Issues in Biology and Psychology

Ingenious Genes

How Gene Regulation Networks Evolve to Control Development

By Roger Sansom

A proposal for a new model of the evolution of gene regulation networks and development that draws on work from artificial intelligence and philosophy of mind.

Bradford Books





A proposal for a new model of the evolution of gene regulation networks and development that draws on work from artificial intelligence and philosophy of mind.

Each of us is a collection of more than ten trillion cells, busy performing tasks crucial to our continued existence. Gene regulation networks, consisting of a subset of genes called transcription factors, control cellular activity, producing the right gene activities for the many situations that the multiplicity of cells in our bodies face. Genes working together make up a truly ingenious system. In this book, Roger Sansom investigates how gene regulation works and how such a refined but simple system evolved.

Sansom describes in detail two frameworks for understanding gene regulation. The first, developed by the theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman, holds that gene regulation networks are fundamentally systems that repeat patterns of gene expression. Sansom finds Kauffman's framework an inadequate explanation for how cells overcome the difficulty of development. Sansom proposes an alternative: the connectionist framework. Drawing on work from artificial intelligence and philosophy of mind, he argues that the key lies in how multiple transcription factors combine to regulate a single gene, acting in a way that is qualitatively consistent. This allows the expression of genes to be finely tuned to the variable microenvironments of cells. Because of the nature of both development and its evolution, we can gain insight into the developmental process when we identify gene regulation networks as the controllers of development. The ingenuity of genes is explained by how gene regulation networks evolve to control development.

Bradford Books imprint


$32.00 X ISBN: 9780262195812 144 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 22 figures


  • This book is well written and presents compelling new ways to examine the interface between gene regulation and development.

    R.K. Harris


  • By identifying an important, unresolved problem and laying out a clear proposed solution, Ingenious Genes makes a thought-provoking contribution to both systems biology and evolutionary biology.



  • Some years ago Darwinian models leapt from biology to cognitive science and gave rise to connectionism. Now connectionist modeling returns to molecular biology to explain development via regulatory gene networks. Ingenious Genes solves the problems in the path of understanding how, in Roger Sansom's words, 'novelty that adds complexity has a chance to be adaptive.' It's a signal combination of philosophy of science, theoretical biology, and interdisciplinary integration.

    Alexander Rosenberg

    R. Taylor Cole Professor of Philosophy, Duke University

  • In this elegant book Roger Sansom makes a very strong case that his novel approach to gene regulation is the key to solving the long standing problem of how mutations can lead to adaptive complexity in organisms. This engaging and provocative book is an essential read for everyone interested in the development of evolutionary theory.

    Stephen M. Downes

    Professor and Department Chair, Department of Philosophy, University of Utah

  • Ingenious Genes is the first full-fledged study of gene regulation networks under the lenses of ontogeny and the evolvability of biological individuals. Sansom's view sheds new light on our understanding of developmental processes, which draws from parallels with networks studied in AI, and makes the book a must-read in the field.

    Andrea Borghini

    Department of Philosophy, College of the Holy Cross