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Zimm Roland | Writing-Up Fellow
2017-10-15 - 2018-04-14 | Research area: EvoDevo
On the origins of stability, complexity and novelties: Insights from a general model of development

A theory of the emergence of novelty, complexity and robustness in evolution could benefit from an understanding of the dynamics of development. I use a general multiscale computational model of development that includes all the cell behaviors and soft-matter bio-mechanical properties known in animal cells and tissues. This model also implements gene regulatory networks (GRNs), of any topology, that can affect mechanical properties and interactions of cells and tissues. By means of this model I explore the range of embryonic morphologies that can arise in animal development. In the emerging morphospace I study the diversity, complexity and stability of morphologies. Preliminary results indicate that GRNs with extensive cell-cell signaling tend to increase morphological robustness, but not complexity. This can be related to the changing role of GRNs in the early stages of the evolution of complex multicellular organisms, in line with theories by Müller and Newman. Furthermore, I address the problem of the much-discussed hourglass model of developmental variation by connecting it to developmental mechanisms.