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J Theor Biol. 1995 Feb 7;172(3):225-34.

An investigation into the role of phenotypic plasticity in evolution.

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  • 1Developmental Biology and Genetics Laboratory, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.


Phenotypic plasticity can modify evolutionary pathways and accelerate the course of evolution. This was brought out in a quantitative model by Hinton & Nowlan (1987, Complex Systems 1, 497-502). The present work confirms and extends their results. We consider a population of genetically haploid individuals of fixed size. Genotypes are represented by one-dimensional arrays (strings) of genes. Each gene can be in one of three allelic states, designated 1, 0 and X. 1 and 0 stand for fixed states, that is for states with predetermined effects on the phenotype. X stands for a plastic state: the phenotypic effect of an X can be equivalent to that of a 1 or a 0, the actual choice being realized by a process of random coin-tossing. Our model, in contrast to that of Hinton and Nowlan, assumes a relatively smooth dependence of fitness on distance from a pre-assigned target genotype. From the fitness values, the number of individuals reaching reproductive maturity is determined. Reproduction involves random mating and a single recombinational event, with one of the two progeny genotypes becoming, in turn, a possible parental genotype for the next generation. We find that it is because of the special assumptions in the Hinton and Nowlan model that phenotypic plasticity invariably accelerates evolution. The relationship is not as straightforward with realistic fitness schemes. Instead, the general result is that plasticity, up to a certain optimal level, slows down the rate of evolutionary change but improves the level of adaptation finally reached.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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