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Biological Individuality: A Relational Reading

Biological Individuality: A Relational Reading

(p.297) 12 Biological Individuality: A Relational Reading
Biological Individuality
Scott F. Gilbert
University of Chicago Press

Biology is a study of relationships between parts and wholes. An individual at one level is a part at another. In the late nineteenth century, embryologist E. B. Wilson wrote, “There is at present no biological question of greater moment than the means by which the individual cell-activities are co-ordinated, and the organic unity of the body maintained; for upon this question hangs… our conception of life itself.” This question of individuality gains prominence in the twenty-first century, as processes that unite parts into new wholes are becoming accessible to study. This essay reviews a newly discerned level of individuality, the holobiont, which may be a critical unit of anatomy, physiology, development, and evolution. This supraorganismal individual constitutes the eukaryotic organism plus its persistent symbionts. The essay then reflects on some of the “parts” of this whole volume. Each reader gets the privilege of reconstituting them into a new whole.

Keywords:   symbiosis, holobiont, part-whole, co-development, individual

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