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Roger Sansom

Roger Sansom is Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Texas A&M University. He is the coeditor of Integrating Evolution and Development: From Theory to Practice (MIT Press, 2007).

Titles by This Author

How Gene Regulation Networks Evolve to Control Development

Each of us is a collection of more than ten trillion cells, busy performing tasks crucial to our continued existence. Gene regulation networks, consisting of a subset of genes called transcription factors, control cellular activity, producing the right gene activities for the many situations that the multiplicity of cells in our bodies face. Genes working together make up a truly ingenious system. In this book, Roger Sansom investigates how gene regulation works and how such a refined but simple system evolved.

Sansom describes in detail two frameworks for understanding gene regulation. The first, developed by the theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman, holds that gene regulation networks are fundamentally systems that repeat patterns of gene expression. Sansom finds Kauffman’s framework an inadequate explanation for how cells overcome the difficulty of development. Sansom proposes an alternative: the connectionist framework. Drawing on work from artificial intelligence and philosophy of mind, he argues that the key lies in how multiple transcription factors combine to regulate a single gene, acting in a way that is qualitatively consistent. This allows the expression of genes to be finely tuned to the variable microenvironments of cells. Because of the nature of both development and its evolution, we can gain insight into the developmental process when we identify gene regulation networks as the controllers of development. The ingenuity of genes is explained by how gene regulation networks evolve to control development.

Titles by This Editor

From Theory to Practice

The twentieth century’s conceptual separation of the process of evolution (changes in a population as its members reproduce and die) from the process of development (changes in an organism over the course of its life) allowed scientists to study evolution without bogging down in the “messy details” of development. Advances in genetics produced the modern synthesis, which cast the gene as the unit of natural selection. The modern synthesis, however, has had its dissenters (among them Stephen Jay Gould), and there is now growing interest in the developmental synthesis (also known as evo-devo), which integrates the study of evolution and development. This collection offers a history of the developmental synthesis, argues for its significance, and provides specific case studies of its applications ranging from evolutionary psychology to the evolution of culture. Widespread interest in the developmental synthesis is a relatively new phenomenon. Scientists don’t yet know whether revisions to evolutionary theory resulting from the findings of evo-devo will be modest, with the developmental synthesis seen as a supplement to evolutionary theory, or a more far-reaching fundamental theoretical rethinking of evolution itself. The chapters in Integrating Evolution and Development not only make a case for the importance of the developmental synthesis, they also make significant contributions to this fast-growing field of study. ContributorsWerner Callebaut, James R. Griesemer, Paul E. Griffiths, Manfred D. Laubichler, Jane Maienschein, Gerd B. Müller, Stuart A. Newman, H. Frederik Nijhout, Roger Sansom, Gerhard Schlosser, William C. WimsattRoger Sansom is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Texas A&M University. Robert Brandon is Professor of Philosophy and Biology at Duke University and the coeditor of Genes, Organisms, Populations: Controversies over the Units of Selection (MIT Press, 1984).