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Book Chapter

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Towards A Theory Of Development


This chapter looks at developmental biology as performance. Each animal inherits score (the DNA), mechanisms for interpreting of the score, and mechanisms for improvisation should the score be deficient. Developmental causation is found to be both upwards from the genome, downward from the environment, and laterally between cells. Developmental plasticity, organicism, phenotypic heterogeneity, symbiotic co-development, and cytoplasmic localization are each examples of causation from the environment downward. Stereocomplementary relationships are the key components of most developmental interactions. These interactions can be placed into a formal language of graph theory. Morphogenesis can be depicted in the general structure, where nouns cover tissues, molecules and networks and verbs describe processes such as moves, differentiates, grows and apoptoses. This manner of depicting development emphasizes the distributed nature of causality in morphogenesis and can be annotated with associated information or IDs (e.g. cell types, publications, gene-expression data) that link to external online resources that may be regularly updated. This graph approach portrays dynamic processes as the drivers of developmental momentum, and, since the same processes are used many times during development, they can be viewed as modules whose underlying networks are genomic subroutines.

Published By

Oxford University Press


Edited By A. Minelli And T. Pradeu


This material was originally published in Towards a Theory of Development edited by Alessandro Minelli and Thomas Pradeu, and has been reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press. For permission to reuse this material, please visit

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