Mentor: Eric Libby
The Evolutionary Origins of Developmental Programs
Abstract: Organisms may exhibit stochastic variation in phenotypes as an evolved strategy to survive in fluctuating environments. These phenotypic variations can have different advantages in different environments; for example, a fast-growing antibiotic-sensitive type and a slow-growing antibiotic-resistant type of bacteria each have different advantages. When growth of an organism population is coupled with changes in environmental fluctuations, it becomes possible to optimize the switching strategy between different phenotypes. This optimal is largely independent of the specific environmental conditions; it is resistant to changes in carrying capacity and competitor organisms’ switching strategies.
This project aims to investigate how a deterministic strategy evolves and competes with an optimized stochastic strategy, with the hypothesis that even a rudimentary deterministic strategy would out-compete a stochastic one. This will be done using computer models to simulate competition between organisms with different switching strategies. Investigating this sort of developmental program may provide clues into the emergence of multicellular life as a form of life cycle which develops from cooperation in the growth of single-celled organisms.