Greenbeard Genes: Theory and Reality

Philip G. Madgwick, Laurence J. Belcher, Jason B. Wolf

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

11 Citations (SciVal)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1092-1103
Number of pages12
JournalTrends in Ecology and Evolution
Issue number12
Early online date2 Sept 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019


  • altruism
  • cooperation
  • gene conflict
  • kin selection
  • social evolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


Dive into the research topics of 'Greenbeard Genes: Theory and Reality'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this