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Ontogeny Tends to Recapitulate Phylogeny in Digital Organisms

Jeff Clune, Robert T. Pennock, Charles Ofria and Richard E. Lenski
The American Naturalist
Vol. 180, No. 3 (September 2012), pp. E54-E63
DOI: 10.1086/666984
Stable URL:
Page Count: 10
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AbstractBiologists have long debated whether ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny and, if so, why. Two plausible explanations are that (i) changes to early developmental stages are selected against because they tend to disrupt later development and (ii) simpler structures often precede more complex ones in both ontogeny and phylogeny if the former serve as building blocks for the latter. It is difficult to test these hypotheses experimentally in natural systems, so we used a computational system that exhibits evolutionary dynamics. We observed that ontogeny does indeed recapitulate phylogeny; traits that arose earlier in a lineage’s history also tended to be expressed earlier in the development of individuals. The relative complexity of traits contributed substantially to this correlation, but a significant tendency toward recapitulation remained even after accounting for trait complexity. This additional effect provides evidence that selection against developmental disruption also contributed to the conservation of early stages in development.

Notes and References

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