Evolutionary Novelty

Lobodon (ringed seal) dentition

Explaining novelty involves understanding how developmental systems are transformed in order to generate new ranges of variation through evolutionary time. Some have advanced an argument for the physico-genetic origination of novelties, which contrasts with standard explanations that appeal to the origination of new patterns of gene expression. What empirical, theoretical, and conceptual barriers exist to integrating genetic and generic explanations of evolutionary novelty? What conflicting assumptions exist among different explanatory models?

Workshop description

Evolutionary Novelty

  • The problem of explaining novelty involves understanding how developmental systems are transformed in order to generate new ranges of variation through evolutionary time.
  • Some have advanced an argument for the physico-genetic origination of novelties that claims major morphological characteristics of metazoans originated from physical forces—diffusion, viscoelasticity, phase separation—operating on soft condensed materials early in evolution (e.g., Newman et al. 2006; Newman 2012). Generic properties of cells and tissues would interact with environmental forces to yield basic morphologies with minimal developmental genetic machinery. These forms would then be stabilized via genetic assimilation, becoming more robust in each generation, as we now observe experimentally.
  • This contrasts with developmental genetic explanations that appeal to the origination of new patterns of gene expression, especially the emergence of networks of expression among regulatory genes, to account for the origin of new traits in the history of life (Erwin and Davidson 2006; Wagner 2014). “The evolution of new morphological features is due predominantly to modifications of spatial patterns of gene expression” (Gompel et al. 2005); “novelty requires the evolution of a new gene regulatory network” (Wagner and Lynch 2010).
  • This workshop addresses research questions such as: What aspects of evolutionary novelty are explained genetically? generically? What are the best examples of each type of explanation in isolation? Are there examples of integrated explanations involving genetic and generic approaches? If so, what are their characteristics? Are they successful? What empirical, theoretical, and conceptual barriers exist to integrating genetic and generic explanations of evolutionary novelty? What conflicting assumptions exist among different explanatory models?