The molecular and mathematical basis of Waddington's epigenetic landscape: A framework for post‐Darwinian biology?

Bioessays 34 (2):149-157 (2012)
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Abstract

The Neo‐Darwinian concept of natural selection is plausible when one assumes a straightforward causation of phenotype by genotype. However, such simple 1:1 mapping must now give place to the modern concepts of gene regulatory networks and gene expression noise. Both can, in the absence of genetic mutations, jointly generate a diversity of inheritable randomly occupied phenotypic states that could also serve as a substrate for natural selection. This form of epigenetic dynamics challenges Neo‐Darwinism. It needs to incorporate the non‐linear, stochastic dynamics of gene networks. A first step is to consider the mathematical correspondence between gene regulatory networks and Waddington's metaphoric ‘epigenetic landscape’, which actually represents the quasi‐potential function of global network dynamics. It explains the coexistence of multiple stable phenotypes within one genotype. The landscape's topography with its attractors is shaped by evolution through mutational re‐wiring of regulatory interactions – offering a link between genetic mutation and sudden, broad evolutionary changes.

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Sui Huang
Institute For Systems Biology Seattle