The impact of cellular characteristics on the evolution of shape homeostasis
The importance of individual cells in a developing multicellular organism is well known but precisely how the individual cellular characteristics of those cells collectively drive the emergence of robust, homeostatic structures is less well understood. For example cell communication via a diffusible factor allows for information to travel across large distances within the population, and cell polarisation makes it possible to form structures with a particular orientation, but how do these processes interact to produce a more robust and regulated structure? In this study we investigate the ability of cells with different cellular characteristics to grow and maintain homeostatic structures. We do this in the context of an individual-based model where cell behaviour is driven by an intra-cellular network that determines the cell phenotype. More precisely, we investigated evolution with 96 different permutations of our model, where cell motility, cell death, long-range growth factor (LGF), short-range growth factor (SGF) and cell polarisation were either present or absent. The results show that LGF has the largest positive impact on achieving the target shape. SGF and polarisation also contribute, but all other capabilities essentially increase the search space, effectively making it more difficult to achieve a solution. By perturbing the evolved solutions, we found that they are highly robust to both mutations and wounding. In addition, we observed that by evolving solutions in more unstable environments they produce structures that were more robust and adaptive. In conclusion, our results suggest that robust collective behaviour is most likely to evolve when cells are endowed with long range communication, cell polarisation, and selection pressure from an unstable environment.