Payne, J. L.,Moore, J. H.,Waagen, A.
In gene regulatory circuits, the expression of individual genes is commonly modulated by a set of regulating gene products, which bind to a gene's cis-regulatory region. This region encodes an input-output function, referred to as signal-integration logic, that maps a specific combination of regulatory signals (inputs) to a particular expression state (output) of a gene. The space of all possible signal-integration functions is vast and the mapping from input to output is many-to-one: For the same set of inputs, many functions (genotypes) yield the same expression output (phenotype). Here, we exhaustively enumerate the set of signal-integration functions that yield identical gene expression patterns within a computational model of gene regulatory circuits. Our goal is to characterize the relationship between robustness and evolvability in the signal-integration space of regulatory circuits, and to understand how these properties vary between the genotypic and phenotypic scales. Among other results, we find that the distributions of genotypic robustness are skewed, so that the majority of signal-integration functions are robust to perturbation. We show that the connected set of genotypes that make up a given phenotype are constrained to specific regions of the space of all possible signal-integration functions, but that as the distance between genotypes increases, so does their capacity for unique innovations. In addition, we find that robust phenotypes are (i) evolvable, (ii) easily identified by random mutation, and (iii) mutationally biased toward other robust phenotypes. We explore the implications of these latter observations for mutation-based evolution by conducting random walks between randomly chosen source and target phenotypes. We demonstrate that the time required to identify the target phenotype is independent of the properties of the source phenotype.