Looking at the origin of phenotypic variation from pattern formation gene networks

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This article critically reviews some widespread views about the overall functioning of development. Special attention is devoted to views in developmental genetics about the superstructure of developmental gene networks. According to these views gene networks are hierarchic and multilayered. The highest layers partition the embryo in large coarse areas and control downstream genes that subsequently subdivide the embryo into smaller and smaller areas. These views are criticized on the bases of developmental and evolutionary arguments. First, these views, although detailed at the level of gene identities, do not incorporate morphogenetic mechanisms nor do they try to explain how morphology changes during development. Often, they assume that morphogenetic mechanisms are subordinate to cell signaling events. This is in contradiction to the evidence reviewed herein. Experimental evidence on pattern formation also contradicts the view that developmental gene networks are hierarchically multilayered and that their functioning is decodable from promoter analysis. Simple evolutionary arguments suggest that, indeed, developmental gene networks tend to be non-hierarchic. Re-use leads to extensive modularity in gene networks while developmental drift blurs this modularity. Evolutionary opportunism makes developmental gene networks very dependent on epigenetic factors. © 2009 Indian Academy of Sciences.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)573-587
JournalJournal of Biosciences
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2009


  • Evolution and development
  • Gene networks
  • Hierarchic networks
  • Morphodynamic
  • Morphogenesis
  • Pattern formation


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