Prospects & Overviews
The molecular and mathematical basis of Waddington's epigenetic landscape: A framework for post-Darwinian biology?
Version of Record online: 18 NOV 2011
Copyright © 2012 WILEY Periodicals, Inc.
Volume 34, Issue 2, pages 149–157, February 2012
How to Cite
Huang, S. (2012), The molecular and mathematical basis of Waddington's epigenetic landscape: A framework for post-Darwinian biology?. Bioessays, 34: 149–157. doi: 10.1002/bies.201100031
- Issue online: 11 JAN 2012
- Version of Record online: 18 NOV 2011
- gene regulatory network;
- systems biology
The Neo-Darwinian concept of natural selection is plausible when one assumes a straightforward causation of phenotype by genotype. However, such simple 1:1 mapping must now give place to the modern concepts of gene regulatory networks and gene expression noise. Both can, in the absence of genetic mutations, jointly generate a diversity of inheritable randomly occupied phenotypic states that could also serve as a substrate for natural selection. This form of epigenetic dynamics challenges Neo-Darwinism. It needs to incorporate the non-linear, stochastic dynamics of gene networks. A first step is to consider the mathematical correspondence between gene regulatory networks and Waddington's metaphoric ‘epigenetic landscape’, which actually represents the quasi-potential function of global network dynamics. It explains the coexistence of multiple stable phenotypes within one genotype. The landscape's topography with its attractors is shaped by evolution through mutational re-wiring of regulatory interactions – offering a link between genetic mutation and sudden, broad evolutionary changes.