Developmental structuring of phenotypic variation: A case study with a cellular automata model of ontogeny.


Developmental mechanisms not only produce an organismal phenotype, but they also structure the way genetic variation maps to phenotypic variation. Here, we revisit a computational model for the evolution of ontogeny based on cellular automata, in which evolution regularly discovered two alternative mechanisms for achieving a selected phenotype, one showing high modularity, the other showing morphological integration. We measure a primary variational property of the systems, their distribution of fitness effects of mutation. We find that the modular ontogeny shows the evolution of mutational robustness and ontogenic simplification, while the integrated ontogeny does not. We discuss the wider use of this methodology on other computational models of development as well as real organisms.

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