Andreea Munteanu, Ricard Solé

Paper #: 08-10-045

Embryonic development is defined by the hierarchical dynamical process that translates genetic information (genotype) into a spatial gene expression pattern (phenotype) providing the positional information for the correct unfolding of the organism. The nature and evolutionary implications of genotype-phenotype mapping still remain key topics in evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo). We have explored here issues of neutrality, robustness and diversity in evo-devo by means of a simple model of gene regulatory networks. The small size of the system allowed an exhaustive analysis of the entire fitness landscape and the extent of its neutrality. This analysis shows that evolution leads to a class of robust genetic networks with an expression pattern characteristic of lateral inhibition. This class is a repertoire of distinct implementations of this key developmental process, the diversity of whom provides valuable clues about its underlying causal principles.