Bram Kuijper Seminar

The evolution of non genetic inheritance: when should offspring listen to their parents and not to their genes? 

Bram Kuijper and Rufus A. Johnstone

Tuesday 19th March 20135pm, Gavin de Beer Lecture Theatre
Kupijer Seminar Poster

There is a growing realization that phenotypes are not always inherited from parents to offspring via genetic means. Several nongenetic inheritance mechanisms have been identified, such as DNA methylation, or the transmission of behaviours by social learning and imitation. Since these nongenetic inheritance mechanisms are typically associated with higher mutation rates and the inheritance of environmentally acquired characters, it begs the question under which conditions nongenetic inheritance is adaptive. I present a theoretical model on the evolution of a maternal modifier which allows offspring to copy their parental phenotype with a certain fidelity, while the environment fluctuates over space and time. We show that high-fidelity copying of parental phenotypes (i.e., conventional genetic inheritance) is the typical evolutionary outcome, whereas low-fidelity copying (i.e., nongenetic inheritance) is only selectively favored whenever different environments occur at roughly similar frequencies. The evolution of nongenetic inheritance is, however, dependent on population demographical details: increased interactions among kin are more conducive to nongenetic inheritance, since selection at the family level favors relatives with a more diverse set of phenotypes. Also, populations that endure mortality selection are more favourable to the evolution of nongenetic inheritance than populations undergoing fecundity selection. 

Information about the Speaker

Bram Kuijper is a theoretical biologist who currently works on evolutionary models of nongenetic inheritance, sharing his time between the Universities of Exeter in Cornwall and Cambridge. He obtained his PhD on modeling the interaction between sexual selection and sex allocation at the University of Groningen last January. While working on a number of different evolutionary problems, his main research interest is in evolutionary conflicts of interest between genes and their evolutionary consequences.

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