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Genetics. 2001 Sep;159(1):423-32.

Nonlinear developmental processes as sources of dominance.

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Department of Biology, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina 27708, USA.


Phenotypes are the products of developmental processes whose dynamics are controlled by genes. In many developmental processes there is a nonlinear relationship between genetic variation and phenotypic variation. These nonlinear relationships can result in the emergence of dominance among alleles that control the developmental process. We explore the properties of dominance relationships in a simple developmental system consisting of a diffusion-gradient-threshold mechanism commonly deployed in pattern formation. We show that a single nonlinear process (diffusion) within this integrated mechanism leads to the emergence of dominance in all components of the mechanism. Unlike the situation in metabolic pathways, where new mutations are most likely to be recessive, the structure of the nonlinearities in this developmental mechanism is such that in certain circumstances new mutations are equally likely to be dominant or recessive. Although the dominance we observe in this system is the result of a physiological process, we also find that dominance can evolve by microevolutionary mechanisms and thus are able to reconcile the opposing views of Fisher and Wright on dominance.

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