Waddington's canalization revisited: Developmental stability and evolution

Mark L. Siegal, Aviv Bergman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Most species maintain abundant genetic variation and experience a range of environmental conditions, yet phenotypic variation is low. That is, development is robust to changes in genotype and environment. It has been claimed that this robustness, termed canalization, evolves because of long-term natural selection for optimal phenotypes. We show that the developmental process, here modeled as a network of interacting transcriptional regulators, constrains the genetic system to produce canalization, even without selection toward an optimum. The extent of canalization, measured as the insensitivity to mutation of a network's equilibrium state, depends on the complexity of the network, such that more highly connected networks evolve to be more canalized. We argue that canalization may be an inevitable consequence of complex developmental-genetic processes and thus requires no explanation in terms of evolution to suppress phenotypic variation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10528-10532
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number16
StatePublished - Aug 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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