Smaller, Scale-Free Gene Networks Increase Quantitative Trait Heritability and Result in Faster Population Recovery
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One of the goals of biology is to bridge levels of organization. Recent technological advances are enabling us to span from genetic sequence to traits, and then from traits to ecological dynamics. The quantitative genetics parameter heritability describes how quickly a trait can evolve, and in turn describes how quickly a population can recover from an environmental change. Here I propose that we can link the details of the genetic architecture of a quantitative trait—i.e., the number of underlying genes and their relationships in a network—to population recovery rates by way of heritability. I test this hypothesis using a set of agent-based models in which individuals possess one of two network topologies or a linear genotype-phenotype map, 16–256 genes underlying the trait, and a variety of mutation and recombination rates and degrees of environmental change. I find that the network architectures introduce extensive directional epistasis that systematically hides and reveals additive genetic variance and affects heritability: network size, topology, and recombination explain 81% of the variance in average heritability in a stable environment. Network size and topology, the width of the fitness function, pre-change additive variance, and certain interactions account for ~75% of the variance in population recovery times after a sudden environmental change. These results suggest that not only the amount of additive variance, but importantly the number of loci across which it is distributed, is important in regulating the rate at which a trait can evolve and populations can recover. Taken in conjunction with previous research focused on differences in degree of network connectivity, these results provide a set of theoretical expectations and testable hypotheses for biologists working to span levels of organization from the genotype to the phenotype, and from the phenotype to the environment.
CitationMalcom JW (2011) Smaller, Scale-Free Gene Networks Increase Quantitative Trait Heritability and Result in Faster Population Recovery. PLoS ONE 6(2): e14645. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0014645
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