A Theoretical Perspective on Waddington's Genetic Assimilation Experiments
by Archishman Raju | BingKan Xue | Stanislas Leibler | National Centre for Biological Sciences | University of Florida | Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton
Abstract ID: 9
Event: The 3rd AsiaEvo Conference
Topic: Open category
Presenter Name: Archishman Raju

Genetic assimilation is the process by which a phenotype that is initially induced by an environmental stimulus becomes stably inherited in the absence of the stimulus after a few generations of selection. While the concept has attracted much debate after being introduced by C. H. Waddington seventy years ago, there have been few experiments to quantitatively characterize the phenomenon. Here, we revisit and organize the results of Waddington’s original experiments and follow-up studies that attempted to replicate his results. We then present a theoretical model to illustrate the process of genetic assimilation and highlight several aspects that we think require further quantitative studies, including the gradual increase of penetrance, the statistics of delay in assimilation, and the frequency of unviability during selection. Our model captures Waddington’s picture of developmental paths in a canalized landscape using a stochastic dynamical system with alternative trajectories that can be controlled by either external signals or internal variables. Our results provide theoretical insight into the concepts of canalization, phenotypic plasticity, and genetic assimilation.