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Phys Biol. 2011 Aug;8(4):045002. doi: 10.1088/1478-3975/8/4/045002. Epub 2011 Jul 12.

Physics and the canalization of morphogenesis: a grand challenge in organismal biology.

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Department of Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh, 3501 Fifth Ave, 5059-BST3, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA.


Morphogenesis takes place against a background of organism-to-organism and environmental variation. Therefore, fundamental questions in the study of morphogenesis include: How are the mechanical processes of tissue movement and deformation affected by that variability, and in turn, how do the mechanic of the system modulate phenotypic variation? We highlight a few key factors, including environmental temperature, embryo size and environmental chemistry that might perturb the mechanics of morphogenesis in natural populations. Then we discuss several ways in which mechanics-including feedback from mechanical cues-might influence intra-specific variation in morphogenesis. To understand morphogenesis it will be necessary to consider whole-organism, environment and evolutionary scales because these larger scales present the challenges that developmental mechanisms have evolved to cope with. Studying the variation organisms express and the variation organisms experience will aid in deciphering the causes of birth defects.

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