Computational modelling of plasticity-led evolution


Plasticity-led evolution is a form of evolution where a change in the environment induces novel traits via phenotypic plasticity, after which the novel traits are genetically accommodated over generations under the novel environment. This mode of evolution is expected to resolve the problem of gradualism (i.e., evolution by the slow accumulation of mutations that induce phenotypic variation) implied by the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis, in the face of a large environmental change. While experimental works are essential for validating that plasticity-led evolution indeed happened, we need computational models to gain insight into its underlying mechanisms and make qualitative predictions. Such computational models should include the developmental process and gene-environment interactions in addition to genetics and natural selection. We point out that gene regulatory network models can incorporate all the above notions. In this review, we highlight results from computational modelling of gene regulatory networks that consolidate the criteria of plasticity-led evolution. Since gene regulatory networks are mathematically equivalent to artificial recurrent neural networks, we also discuss their analogies and discrepancies, which may help further understand the mechanisms underlying plasticity-led evolution.

Biophysical Reviews