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Am Nat. 2011 Aug;178(2):E18-36. doi: 10.1086/660911.

A unified approach to the evolutionary consequences of genetic and nongenetic inheritance.

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Department of Mathematics and Statistics , Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario K7L 3N6, Canada.


Inheritance-the influence of ancestors on the phenotypes of their descendants-translates natural selection into evolutionary change. For the past century, inheritance has been conceptualized almost exclusively as the transmission of DNA sequence variation from parents to offspring in accordance with Mendelian rules, but advances in cell and developmental biology have now revealed a rich array of inheritance mechanisms. This empirical evidence calls for a unified conception of inheritance that combines genetic and nongenetic mechanisms and encompasses the known range of transgenerational effects, including the transmission of genetic and epigenetic variation, the transmission of plastic phenotypes (acquired traits), and the effects of parental environment and genotype on offspring phenotype. We propose a unified theoretical framework based on the Price equation that can be used to model evolution under an expanded inheritance concept that combines the effects of genetic and nongenetic inheritance. To illustrate the utility and generality of this framework, we show how it can be applied to a variety of scenarios, including nontransmissible environmental noise, maternal effects, indirect genetic effects, transgenerational epigenetic inheritance, RNA-mediated inheritance, and cultural inheritance.

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