Waddington's canalization revisited: Developmental stability and evolution


National Academy of Sciences


Most species maintain abundant genetic variation and experience a range of environmental conditions, yet phenotypic variation is low. That is, development is robust to changes in genotype and environment. It has been claimed that this robustness, termed canalization, evolves because of long-term natural selection for optimal phenotypes. We show that the developmental process, here modeled as a network of interacting transcriptional regulators, constrains the genetic system to produce canalization, even without selection toward an optimum. The extent of canalization, measured as the insensitivity to mutation of a network's equilibrium state, depends on the complexity of the network, such that more highly connected networks evolve to be more canalized. We argue that canalization may be an inevitable consequence of complex developmental–genetic processes and thus requires no explanation in terms of evolution to suppress phenotypic variation.

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