Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Selfish DNA: the ultimate parasite


The DNA of higher organisms usually falls into two classes, one specific and the other comparatively nonspecific. It seems plausible that most of the latter originated by the spreading of sequences which had little or no effect on the phenotype. We examine this idea from the point of view of the natural selection of preferred replicators within the genome.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. Dawkins, R. The Selfish Gene (Oxford University Press, 1976).

    Google Scholar 

  2. Walker, P. M. B. in Human Genetics: Possibilities and Realities, 25–38 (Excepta Medica, Amsterdam, 1979).

    Google Scholar 

  3. Crick, F. H. C. in From Gene to Protein: Information Transfer in Normal and Abnormal Cells (eds Russell, T. R., Brew, K., Faber, H. & Schultz, J.) 1–13 (Academic, New York, 1979).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  4. Crick, F. H. C. Science 204, 264–271 (1979).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Doolittle, W. F. & Sapienza, C. Nature 284, 601–603 (1980).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Callan, H. G. J. Cell Sci. 2, 1–7 (1967).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. Thomas, C. A. A. Rev. Genet. 5, 237–256 (1971).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Hinegardner, R. in Molecular Evolution (ed. Ayala, F. J.) 179–199 (Sinauer, Sunderland, 1976).

    Google Scholar 

  9. Commoner, B. Nature 202, 960–968 (1964).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Ohno, S. J. hum. Evolut. 1, 651–662 (1972).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Comings, D. E. Adv. hum. Genet. 3, 237–436 (1972).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Cavalier-Smith, T. J. Cell Sci. 34, 274–278 (1978).

    Google Scholar 

  13. Galan, G. A., Chamberlin, M. E., Hough, B. R., Britten, R. J. & Davidson, E. H. in Molecular Evolution (ed. Ayala, F. J.) 200–224 (Sinauer, Sunderland, 1976).

    Google Scholar 

  14. Bishop, J. O. Cell 2, 81–86 (1974).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Lewin, B. Cell 4, 11–20 (1975); Cell 4, 77–93 (1975).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Lomedico, P. et al. Cell 18, 545–558 (1979).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Bernards, R., Little, P. F. R., Annison, G., Williamson, R. & Flavell, R. A. Proc. natn. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 76, 4827–4831 (1979).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Crick, F. H. C. Eur. J. Biochem. 83, 1–3 (1978).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Britten, R. J. & Davidson, E. H. Science 165, 349–358 (1969).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Davidson, E. U. & Britten, R. J. Science 204, 1052–1059 (1979).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Wilson, A. C. in Molecular Evolution (ed. Ayala, F. J.) 225–236 (Sinauer, Sunderland, 1976).

    Google Scholar 

  22. Bennett, M. D. Proc. R. Soc. B181, 109–135 (1972).

    ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  23. Bennett, M. D. & Smith, J. B. Proc. R. Soc. B181, 81–107 (1972).

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  24. Young, M. W. Proc. natn. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 76, 6274–6278 (1979).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Oeldorfe, E., Nishioka, M. & Bachmann, K. Sonderdr. Z.F. Zool., System Evolut. 16, 216–24 (1978).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Orgel, L., Crick, F. Selfish DNA: the ultimate parasite. Nature 284, 604–607 (1980).

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing