Evolution of branched regulatory genetic pathways: directional selection on pleiotropic loci accelerates developmental system drift

Genetica. 2007 Jan;129(1):57-70. doi: 10.1007/s10709-006-0033-2. Epub 2006 Aug 16.


Developmental systems are regulated by a web of interacting loci. One common and useful approach in studying the evolution of development is to focus on classes of interacting elements within these systems. Here, we use individual-based simulations to study the evolution of traits controlled by branched developmental pathways involving three loci, where one locus regulates two different traits. We examined the system under a variety of selective regimes. In the case where one branch was under stabilizing selection and the other under directional selection, we observed "developmental system drift": the trait under stabilizing selection showed little phenotypic change even though the loci underlying that trait showed considerable evolutionary divergence. This occurs because the pleiotropic locus responds to directional selection and compensatory mutants are then favored in the pathway under stabilizing selection. Though developmental system drift may be caused by other mechanisms, it seems likely that it is accelerated by the same underlying genetic mechanism as that producing the Dobzhansky-Muller incompatibilities that lead to speciation in both linear and branched pathways. We also discuss predictions of our model for developmental system drift and how different selective regimes affect probabilities of speciation in the branched pathway system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Computer Simulation
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • Gene Regulatory Networks*
  • Genetic Drift*
  • Genetic Speciation
  • Genetic Variation
  • Genetics, Population
  • Humans
  • Models, Genetic
  • Mutation
  • Phenotype
  • Quantitative Trait Loci
  • Selection, Genetic