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Keywords:

  • Epistasis;
  • Genetic Networks;
  • Population Genetics;
  • Transcription

Organisms respond to changes in their environment over a wide range of biological and temporal scales. Such phenotypic plasticity can involve developmental, behavioral, physiological, and genetic shifts. The adaptive value of a plastic response is known to depend on the nature of the information that is available to the organism as well as the direct and indirect costs of the plastic response. We modeled the dynamic process of simple gene regulatory networks as they responded to temporal fluctuations in environmental conditions. We simulated the evolution of networks to determine when genes that function solely as transcription factors, with no direct function of their own, are beneficial to the function of the network. When there is perfect information about the environment and there is no timing information to be extracted then there is no advantage to adding pure transcription factor genes to the network. In contrast, when there is either timing information that can be extracted or only indirect information about the current state of the environment then additional transcription factor genes improve the evolved network fitness.