Symbiosis as a source of selectable epigenetic variation: taking the heat for the big guy

Scott F. Gilbert, Emily McDonald, Nicole Boyle, Nicholas Buttino, Lin Gyi, Mark Mai, Neelakantan Prakash, James Robinson

Abstract

Evolutionary developmental biology is based on the principle that evolution arises from hereditable changes in development. Most of this new work has centred on changes in the regulatory components of the genome. However, recent studies (many of them documented in this volume) have shown that development also includes interactions between the organism and its environment. One area of interest concerns the importance of symbionts for the production of the normal range of phenotypes. Many, if not most, organisms have ‘outsourced’ some of their developmental signals to a set of symbionts that are expected to be acquired during development. Such intimate interactions between species are referred to as codevelopment, the production of a new individual through the coordinated interactions of several genotypically different species. Within the past 2 years, several research programmes have demonstrated that such codevelopmental schemes can be selected. We will focus on symbioses in coral reef cnidarians symbiosis, pea aphids and cactuses, wherein the symbiotic system provides thermotolerance for the composite organism.

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