Generation of morphological diversity remains a challenge for evolutionary biologists because it is unclear how an ultimately finite number of genes involved in initial pattern formation integrates with morphogenesis. Ideally, models used to search for the simplest developmental principles on how genes produce form should account for both developmental process and evolutionary change. Here we present a model reproducing the morphology of mammalian teeth by integrating experimental data on gene interactions and growth into a morphodynamic mechanism in which developing morphology has a causal role in patterning. The model predicts the course of tooth-shape development in different mammalian species and also reproduces key transitions in evolution. Furthermore, we reproduce the known expression patterns of several genes involved in tooth development and their dynamics over developmental time. Large morphological effects frequently can be achieved by small changes, according to this model, and similar morphologies can be produced by different changes. This finding may be consistent with why predicting the morphological outcomes of molecular experiments is challenging. Nevertheless, models incorporating morphology and gene activity show promise for linking genotypes to phenotypes.
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