Event Detail

Two Sides of the Same Coin: Mechanistic and Population-Level Perspectives on Evolution


Nov 17 to Nov 20, 2016

Organized by: Joanna Masel (University of Arizona) & Johannes Jaeger (KLI Klosterneuburg)

Topic Description

Evolution not only involves population-level processes such as natural selection. We can no longer maintain Mayr’s famous distinction between ultimate and proximate causes in biology. There is feedback between the two kinds of processes: the non-random phenotypic variation that is subject to selection originates from mechanisms at the level of the individual. These include molecular self-organization, metabolism, physiology, gene regulation, development, and interactions between organisms and their environment. Because these mechanisms are complex and non-linear, we do not yet understand how mutations affect the evolution of phenotypic traits. This challenge is currently being tackled by two complementary approaches. Evolutionary geneticists (using a top-down approach) seek quantitative insights into genetic architecture and gene-environment interactions, while molecular, cell and developmental biologists (using a bottom-up approach) seek causal, mechanistic understanding of biological systems. On the one hand, these approaches overlap in addressing concepts such as variational properties, constraints, epistasis, robustness and evolvability. On the other hand, they remain largely disconnected in practice, because of significant methodological and conceptual differences. This leads to misunderstandings and controversies hindering progress in the field of evolutionary theory. To overcome this roadblock, a new and focused approach at interdisciplinary communication is necessary. We propose a workshop with an unusual, flexible structure, which dynamically adjusts to the needs and interests of the participants. The goal is to enable a constructive dialogue between researchers in different communities. This allows us to identify both synergies and areas of creative tension between fields. One important outcome will be to enable and foster sustained collaborations between participants. Another will consist of a general positional paper on methodological and conceptual issues, which will profit from interactions between the two approaches. Additionally, the workshop will generate more specific conceptual publications on problems that arise during our discussions.


Jaeger Johannes, KLI Klosterneuburg

Masel Joanna, University of Arizona

Barton Nick, IST Austria

Dworkin Ian, Michigan State University

Extavour Cassandra, Harvard University,

Jernvall Jukka, University of Helsinki

Kassen Rees, University of Ottawa

Khila Abderrahman, École Normale Supérieure Lyo,

Mitteroeker Philipp, University of Vienna

Omholt Stig, Norwegian University of Science & Technology,

Paaby Annalise, Georgia Tech, Atlanta,

Pavlicev Mihaela, Cinncinati Children’s Hospital

Queitsch Christine, University of Washington

Sarkar Sahotra, University of Texas, Austin

Siegal Mark, New York University

Stoltzfus Arlin, University of Maryland

Thornton Joe, University of Chicago


Maggie Dugan/Tim Dunne (knowinnovation.com)

Hilde Janssens (servusscience.org)