Genetics without genes? The centrality of genetic markers in livestock genetics and genomics

James W. E Lowe, Ann Bruce

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this paper, rather than focusing on genes as an organising concept around which historical considerations of theory and practice in genetics are elucidated, we place genetic markers at the heart of our analysis. This reflects their central role in the subject of our account, livestock genetics concerning the domesticated pig, Sus scrofa. We define a genetic marker as a (usually material) element existing in different forms in the genome, that can be identified and mapped using a variety (and often combination) of quantitative, classical and molecular genetic techniques. The conjugation of pig genome researchers around the common object of the marker from the early-1990s allowed the distinctive theories and approaches of quantitative and molecular genetics concerning the size and distribution of gene effects to align (but never fully integrate) in projects to populate genome maps. Critical to this was the nature of markers as ontologically inert, internally heterogeneous and relational. Though genes as an organising and categorising principle remained important, the particular concatenation of limitations, opportunities, and intended research goals of the pig genetics community, meant that a progressively stronger focus on the identification and mapping of markers rather than genes per se became a hallmark of the community. We therefore detail a different way of doing genetics to more gene-centred accounts. By doing so, we reveal the presence of practices, concepts and communities that would otherwise be hidden.
Original languageEnglish
Article number50
Pages (from-to)1-29
Number of pages29
JournalHistory and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Issue number4
Early online date28 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2019


  • history of genetics
  • genes
  • markers
  • quantitative genetics
  • molecular genetics
  • livestock


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