Greenbeard genes were proposed as a cartoonish thought experiment to explain why altruism can be a selfish strategy from the perspective of genes. The likelihood of finding a real greenbeard gene in nature was thought to be remote because they were believed to require a set of improbable properties. Yet, despite this expectation, there is an ongoing explosion in claimed discoveries of greenbeard genes.
Bringing together the latest theory and experimental findings, we argue that there is a need to dispose of the cartoon presentation of a greenbeard to refocus their burgeoning empirical study on the more fundamental concept that the thought experiment was designed to illustrate.
Philip Madgwick, SWBio DTP student
Paper: Greenbeard Genes: Theory and Reality by Philip G. Madgwick, Laurence J. Belcher and Jason B. Wolf in Trends in Ecology & Evolution.