I will be attending the Royal Society Meeting on New trends in evolutionary biology: biological, philosophical and social science perspectives. I'll post each of the abstracts and ask for your help in deciding what question to pose to the speakers. Here's the abstract for Sonia Sultan's talk on Developmental plasticity: re-conceiving the genotype.
For several decades, the phenotype of an organism (i.e, its traits and behaviour) has been studied as the outcome of developmental ‘instructions’ coded in its DNA. According to this model, each genotype is expressed as a specific phenotype; individual differences in fitness-related traits are seen to arise from this stably inherited internal information. This simplified view of development provides the foundation for a Modern Synthesis approach to adaptive evolution as a sorting process among genetic variants. As developmental biologists are aware, however, an organism’s phenotype is not strictly pre-determined by its genotype, but rather takes shape through the interplay of genetic factors with the organism’s environmental conditions. By means of this developmental plasticity, a given genotype may express different phenotypes under different environmental conditions. Accordingly, the genotype can be understood as a repertoire of potential developmental outcomes or norm of reaction.Here's a possible question ...
Re-conceiving the genotype as an environmental response repertoire rather than a fixed developmental programme leads to three critical insights, as illustrated by norm of reaction data from Polygonum plants. Plastic responses to specific conditions often comprise functionally appropriate trait adjustments, resulting in an individual-level, developmental mode of adaptive variation. Environmental responses can extend across generations via effects on progeny growth and fitness, a form of inherited yet non-genetic adaptation. Finally, because genotypes are differently expressed depending on the environment, the genetic diversity available to natural selection is itself environmentally contingent.
Back in the 1960s we learned that transcription of the lac operon in E. coli was regulated by the environment. This regulation, activation or repression, was passed on to daughter cells as the cells divided. Why didn't this discovery lead to a major revision of evolutionary theory?