Regulation, necessity and the misinterpretation of knockouts

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Much contemporary biology consists of identifying the molecular components that associate to perform biological functions, then discovering how these functions are controlled. The concept of control is key to biological understanding, at least of the physiological kind; identifying regulators of processes underpins ideas of causality and allows complicated, multicomponent systems to be summarized in relatively simple diagrams and models. Unfortunately, as this article demonstrates by drawing on published articles, there is a growing tendency for authors to claim that a molecule is a 'regulator' of something on evidence that cannot support the conclusion. In particular, gene knockout experiments, which can demonstrate only that a molecule is necessary for a process, are all too frequently being misinterpreted as revealing regulation. This logical error threatens to blur the important distinction between regulation and mere necessity and therefore to weaken one of our strongest tools for comprehending how organisms work.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)826-830
Number of pages5
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2009


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