• There is no controversy about whether genetic and generic approaches are required to explain ontogeny: “both the physics and biochemical signaling pathways of the embryo contribute to the form of the organism” (Von Dassow et al. 2010). In this sense they are not competing causal explanations of the same phenomenon. Recent empirical work suggests that the aim is to capture how their productive interactions yield specific outcomes (e.g., neural tubes and kidneys): “an increasing number of examples point to the existence of a reciprocal interplay between expression of some developmental genes and the mechanical forces that are associated with morphogenetic movements” (Brouzés and Farge 2004).

  • But even in cases where the need for an integration of genetic and generic approaches is fully acknowledged—“there has been a renewed appreciation of the fact that to understand morphogenesis in three dimensions, it is necessary to combine molecular insights (genes and morphogens) with knowledge of physical processes (transport, deformation and flow) generated by growing tissues” (Savin et al. 2011)—the actual combining or integration is often absent. At least three factors act as obstacles to progress in explanatory integration: (1) a continued orientation toward exclusively genetic explanations of ontogeny; (2) incompatible experimental models for discovering the relative significance of generic versus genetic explanation; and, (3) the inherent difficulty in finding a common currency for comparing the causal factors.

  • This workshop addresses research questions such as: What aspects of development 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 development? What conflicting assumptions exist among different explanatory models?

  • The complete reading list and schedule of discussion from the workshop are now available here

Suggested Readings

Akam, M. 1989. Making stripes inelegantly. Nature 341:282–283.

Arends, F., C. Nowald, K. Pflieger, K. Boettcher, S. Zahler, and O. Lieleg. 2015. The biophysical properties of basal lamina gels depend on the biochemical composition of the gel. PLoS ONE 10:e0118090.

Bambardekar, K., R. Clément, O. Blanc, C. Chardès, and P.-F. Lenne. 2015. Direct laser manipulation reveals the mechanics of cell contacts in vivo. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 112:1416–1421.

Blanchard, G.B., A.J. Kabla, N.L. Schultz, L.C. Butler, B. Sanson, N. Gorfinkiel, L. Mahadevan, and R.J. Adams. 2009. Tissue tectonics: morphogenetic strain rates, cell shape change and intercalation. Nature Methods 6:458–464.

Brouzés, E., and E. Farge. 2004. Interplay of mechanical deformation and patterned gene expression in developing embryos. Current Opinion in Genetics & Development 14:367-374.