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date: 25 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

The relation between genotype and phenotype was thought to be relatively straightforward for most of the last century. The majority of biologists assumed that the instructions for building organisms were present in their genes and that genes were also the exclusive means by which these instructions were transmitted from one generation to the next. As a result of these assumptions, few biologists believed that development had any relevance to evolution. In this chapter I explore what brought about this genocentric view of development and evolution and review how recent advances across the life sciences challenge these longstanding assumptions. Genes are certainly critical to all development, but it is increasingly clear that the passing on of genes cannot fully account for phenotypic outcomes or for evolutionary change. Genetic and nongenetic factors constitute a dynamic developmental system, and evidence from contemporary epigenetic research indicates that it is not biologically meaningful to discuss gene activity without reference to the molecular, cellular, organismal, and environmental context within which genes are activated and expressed. This key insight suggests the possibility of bringing together molecular, developmental, and evolutionary biology in one dynamic model of the phenotype. The implications of this effort for developmental psychology are explored.

Keywords: developmental biology, developmental systems theory, epigenetics, heredity, probabilistic epigenesis

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