Plasticity, Robustness, Development and Evolution

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Cambridge University Press, Jun 30, 2011 - Science
How do we understand and explain the apparent dichotomy between plasticity and robustness in the context of development? Can we identify these complex processes without resorting to 'either/or' solutions? Written by two leaders in the field, this is the first book to fully unravel the complexity of the subject, explaining that the epigenetic processes generating plasticity and robustness are in fact deeply intertwined. It identifies the different mechanisms that generate robustness and the various forms of plasticity, before considering the functional significance of the integrated mechanisms and how the component processes might have evolved. Finally, it highlights the ways in which epigenetic mechanisms could be instrumental in driving evolutionary change. Essential reading for biologists and psychologists interested in epigenetics and evolution, this book is also a valuable resource for biological anthropologists, sociobiologists, child psychologists and paediatricians.

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Bateson and Gluckman review one of the most complex and important issues in biology and behavior today - the interplay of genetic and experiential factors in development. They are correctly critical of the simple "innate vs. learned" dichotomies in the past, and show how a combined framework of plasticity and robustness in all life processes can give rise to important insights in both development and evolution. There are deep lessons here, both analytical and conceptual. Unlike the previous reviewer I was deeply appreciative of the wide range of examples given, as these operate across diverse time spans and diverse organizational levels in diverse species. The reason is that these issues are critical in all phases of life, both animal and plant. A simple new synthesis is not yet in the cards, but this highly detailed but readable volume has paved the way that such a synthesis may become more likely in the future. I recommend this book without reservation, and hope it is read (studied) by biologists, psychologists, anthropologists and any others interested in one of the true pervasive mysteries of life. John C. Fentress, PhD 


1 Setting the scene
2 Clarifications
3 Developmental robustness
4 Plasticity
5 Integration of robustness and plasticity
6 Current function of integrated developmental processes
7 Evolution of developmental processes
8 Impact of developmental processes on evolution
9 Development and evolution intertwined

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About the author (2011)

Professor Sir Patrick Bateson FRS is Emeritus Professor of Ethology at the University of Cambridge. He is President of the Zoological Society of London and former Biological Secretary and Vice-President of the Royal Society. He has a long-standing interest in behavioural development and in evolutionary theory.

Professor Sir Peter Gluckman FRS is arguably New Zealand's most recognised biomedical scientist. A University of Auckland Distinguished Professor, he is Professor of Paediatric and Perinatal Biology and former Director of the Liggins Institute for Medical Research. The bulk of his recent research has related to developmental plasticity and its relationship to human health.

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