Beyond networks: mechanism and process in evo-devo

Biology and Philosophy 34 (6):54 (2019)


Explanation in terms of gene regulatory networks has become standard practice in evolutionary developmental biology. In this paper, we argue that GRNs fail to provide a robust, mechanistic, and dynamic understanding of the developmental processes underlying the genotype–phenotype map. Explanations based on GRNs are limited by three main problems: the problem of genetic determinism, the problem of correspondence between network structure and function, and the problem of diachronicity, as in the unfolding of causal interactions over time. Overcoming these problems requires dynamic mechanistic explanations, which rely not only on mechanistic decomposition, but also on dynamic modeling to reconstitute the causal chain of events underlying the process of development. We illustrate the power and potential of this type of explanation with a number of biological case studies that integrate empirical investigations with mathematical modeling and analysis. We conclude with general considerations on the relation between mechanism and process in evo-devo.

Download options


    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 72,805

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library


Added to PP

28 (#413,257)

6 months
1 (#386,499)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author Profiles

Johannes Jaeger
Konrad Lorenz Institute Klosterneuburg, Austria

References found in this work

Explanation: A Mechanist Alternative.William Bechtel & Adele Abrahamsen - 2005 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 36 (2):421-441.
Causes That Make a Difference.C. Kenneth Waters - 2007 - Journal of Philosophy 104 (11):551-579.
Mechanism and Biological Explanation.William Bechtel - 2011 - Philosophy of Science 78 (4):533-557.

View all 14 references / Add more references

Similar books and articles

Mechanistic Explanation in Systems Biology: Cellular Networks.Dana Matthiessen - 2017 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 68 (1):1-25.
A Model of Causal, Statistical Explanation in Evolutionary Biology.Bruce David Glymour - 1995 - Dissertation, University of California, San Diego
From Seconds to Eons: Time Scales, Hierarchies, and Processes in Evo-Devo.Jan Baedke & Siobhan F. Mc Manus - 2018 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 72:38-48.
The Dual Role of Evo-Devo Mechanisms and the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis.Guillermo Folguera & Nicolás Lavagnino - 2018 - Principia: An International Journal of Epistemology 22 (2):251-275.
Typology and Natural Kinds in Evo-Devo.Ingo Brigandt - 2021 - In Laura Nuño De La Rosa & Gerd Müller (eds.), Evolutionary Developmental Biology: A Reference Guide. Cham: Springer. pp. 483-493.
Systems Biology and the Integration of Mechanistic Explanation and Mathematical Explanation.Ingo Brigandt - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (4):477-492.
Models and Mechanisms in Network Neuroscience.Carlos Zednik - 2018 - Philosophical Psychology 32 (1):23-51.
Causal Concepts in Biology: How Pathways Differ From Mechanisms and Why It Matters.Lauren N. Ross - 2021 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 72 (1):131-158.