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Plasticity, Robustness, Development and Evolution

The first book to classify the processes that generate robust outcomes in development and the various types of plasticity
Clarifies a range of issues that have become confused in studies of biology and psychology, enabling students to understand the broader context
Demonstrates how developmental processes can be important in driving evolutionary change, bringing a fresh perspective to a discussion that has continued for many years without conclusion

By: Patrick Bateson (Author), Peter Gluckman (Author)

156 pages, 15 b/w illustrations

Cambridge University Press

Paperback | Jun 2011 | #191961 | ISBN-13: 9780521736206
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £30.99 $38/€35 approx
Hardback | Jun 2011 | #190822 | ISBN-13: 9780521516297
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £87.99 $108/€99 approx

About this book

How do we understand and explain the apparent dichotomy between plasticity and robustness in the context of development? Can we identify these complex processes without resorting to 'either/or' solutions? Written by two leaders in the field, this is the first book to fully unravel the complexity of the subject, explaining that the epigenetic processes generating plasticity and robustness are in fact deeply intertwined. It identifies the different mechanisms that generate robustness and the various forms of plasticity, before considering the functional significance of the integrated mechanisms and how the component processes might have evolved.

Finally, it highlights the ways in which epigenetic mechanisms could be instrumental in driving evolutionary change. Essential reading for biologists and psychologists interested in epigenetics and evolution, Plasticity, Robustness, Development and Evolution is also a valuable resource for biological anthropologists, sociobiologists, child psychologists and paediatricians.

"Although biologists typically treat change and constancy as independent, polar opposites, Bateson and Gluckman argue forcefully that they actually are – like yin and yang – interwoven and mutually interdependent. Their carefully constructed, systematic, and balanced new book provides a much-needed roadmap that guides the reader through the intricacies of development and its interplay with evolution."
– Mark S. Blumberg, F. Wendell Miller Professor of Psychology, University of Iowa and author of Freaks of Nature: What Anomalies Tell Us About Development and Evolution

"If, as Bateson and Gluckman write, 'the conceptual flower-bed is full of vigorous weeds with deep roots', then this volume is just the spade needed to uproot tenacious but disproved ideas and to mix the soil so better ones can germinate and flourish. Such mixing, Bateson and Gluckman demonstrate, is critical. They take the slash out of nature/nurture, innate/experienced, and robust/plastic, and they mix them up to show how necessary each component is for the other, that these are not pairs of opposites but pairs of players, whose interactions make evolution possible. And in so doing, this thought-provoking volume also brings that elusive phenotype set, behaviour, back into the central discussions of adaptation and evolvability."
– Scott F. Gilbert, Howard A. Schneiderman Professor of Biology, Swarthmore College and co-author of Ecological Developmental Biology

"The human genome has been compared to a compact disc containing the plan for a human being. This image hopelessly misrepresents what biology has actually discovered about development. These two distinguished biologists explain how the human organism interacts with innumerable aspects of its environment as it weaves its way through the maze of developmental pathways open to it. The book is comprehensive and accessible, and its contents have implications for fields as diverse as evolutionary theory and public health. Scientists will benefit from seeing their own field related to the wider landscape. The general reader will gain an understanding of biology that goes far beyond what can be expressed by the tired metaphors of 'blueprints' and 'decoding'."
– Paul Griffiths, University of Sydney and co-author of Sex and Death: An Introduction to Philosophy of Biology

"An egg is laid, an embryo develops, a hatchling emerges, a fledgling grows, and one day, an adult songbird begins to sing, dance and so wins a mate who lays an egg. Bateson and Gluckman reveal the deep, unifying, logic behind that familiar yet wonderful story. A masterful synthesis – by two masters of their fields."
– Armand Leroi, Imperial College London and author of Mutants: On the Form, Varieties and Errors of the Human Body

"With the demise, over and over again, of the innate-learned dichotomy that has ruled the study of behavioural development and development in general, the time is ripe for a new integration. This elegantly written small volume is essentially a primer for this new integration. It presents an integration of the many fields that are contributing to form the backbone of development (robustness) and the many processes that create its plasticity. In recognition that evolution proceeds through modifications of developmental processes and their outcomes, subject to natural selection, almost for the first time in a volume on development, evolution is given an almost equal standing. Together the authors provide a range of expertise that matches the task they have set for themselves."
– Jay S. Rosenblatt, Daniel S. Lehrman Professor of Psychobiology (Ret.), Rutgers University

"[...] a handy and accessible roadmap to the problem of development in evolution [...] As a researcher, I found the rich historical context in the first four chapters to be helpful. At the same time, the clear writing and use of examples, hypotheticals, and metaphors also make these and other chapters ideal for students with only basic background in evolutionary biology."
American Journal of Human Biology

"Bateson and Gluckman's complementary perspectives result in clear, powerful, and accessible arguments. The framework developed in this volume is timely, refreshing, informative, and easy to read for not only biologists and doctors, but also the general public."
The Quarterly Review of Biology



1. Setting the scene
2. Clarifications
3. Developmental robustness
4. Plasticity
5. Integration of robustness and plasticity
6. Current functions of integrated developmental processes
7. Evolution of developmental processes
8. Impact of developmental processes on evolution
9. Development and evolution intertwined


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Professor Sir Patrick Bateson FRS is Emeritus Professor of Ethology at the University of Cambridge. He is President of the Zoological Society of London and former Biological Secretary and Vice-President of the Royal Society. He has a long-standing interest in behavioural development and in evolutionary theory.

Professor Sir Peter Gluckman FRS is arguably New Zealand's most recognised biomedical scientist. A University of Auckland Distinguished Professor, he is Professor of Paediatric and Perinatal Biology and former Director of the Liggins Institute for Medical Research. The bulk of his recent research has related to developmental plasticity and its relationship to human health.

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