Does the theory of frozen plasticity disprove the selfish gene theory of evolution of adaptive traits?
In a certain sense yes. Richard Dawkins proposed the theory to explain the evolution of adaptive traits in sexually reproducing organisms. He argues that the fitness of an organism is determined by its genotype, and the genotype (and therefore, also, the fitness) is not inherited from parents in sexually reproducing species but originates in every generation de novo by mixing half of the genes from one parent and half of the genes from the other parent. In contrast, the gene, defined by Dawkins as a small piece of DNA responsible for a particular trait, is regularly inherited from generation to generation in unchanged form even in sexual organisms. Therefore, the genes (in fact, the alleles) but not the individuals can be the subjects of biological evolution. The selfish gene theory is better than the original theory of intrapopulation individual selection, as it offers a unified theoretical framework for explaining a broader spectrum of evolutionary phenomena. It explains not only the evolution of adaptive traits but also the evolution and spread of certain alleles which decrease the fitness of their carrier (outlaw genes in Dawkins’s terminology), as well as the spread of a category of altruistic genes, i.e., alleles for behavior which decrease the direct fitness of their carrier while increasing its inclusive fitness by increasing the direct fitness of its relatives.
The frozen plasticity theory, however, shows that the selfish gene theory fails in its original objective, i.e., in explaining the mechanism of adaptive evolution in sexual organisms. It is true that the allele is regularly transmitted from generation to generation in an unchanged form. At the same time, the influence of an allele on a particular trait, as well as the influence of a particular trait on the fitness of an individual, is very often context dependent – in a particular genotype the same allele influences the trait negatively, whereas in another genotype the same allele influences the same trait positively. In the context of one phenotype the particular trait influences the biological fitness positively, while in the context of another phenotype the same trait influences the fitness negatively. Moreover, the influence of the particular trait on the fitness very often quantitatively or even qualitatively depends on the frequency of the trait in a population. Therefore, in sexual (genetically polymorphic) species neither the Darwinian nor the Dawkinsonian mechanism can explain the evolution of adaptive traits.