Modelling the evolution of genetic regulatory networks

Adrian Quayle, Seth Bullock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)


An evolutionary model of genetic regulatory networks is developed, based on a model of network encoding and dynamics called the Artificial Genome (AG). This model derives a number of specific genes and their interactions from a string of (initially random) bases in an idealized manner analogous to that employed by natural DNA. The gene expression dynamics are determined by updating the gene network as if it were a simple Boolean network. The generic behaviour of the AG model is investigated in detail. In particular, we explore the characteristic network topologies generated by the model, their dynamical behaviours, and the typical variance of network connectivities and network structures. These properties are demonstrated to agree with a probabilistic analysis of the model, and the typical network structures generated by the model are shown to lie between those of random networks and scale-free networks in terms of their degree distribution. Evolutionary processes are simulated using a genetic algorithm, with selection acting on a range of properties from gene number and degree of connectivity through periodic behaviour to specific patterns of gene expression. The evolvability of increasingly complex patterns of gene expression is examined in detail. When a degree of redundancy is introduced, the average number of generations required to evolve given targets is reduced, but limits on evolution of complex gene expression patterns remain. In addition, cyclic gene expression patterns with periods that are multiples of shorter expression patterns are shown to be inherently easier to evolve than others. Constraints imposed by the template-matching nature of the AG model generate similar biases towards such expression patterns in networks in initial populations, in addition to the somewhat scale-free nature of these networks. The significance of these results on current understanding of biological evolution is discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)737-753
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 21 Feb 2006


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