After a century of biochemical and genetic onslaught on the embryo we are left with an inexhaustive parts list with an increasingly baroque logic. How do we begin to assemble complex living systems from knowledge of the parts list? In this talk I will attempt to pursue a statistical (physics) approach to discerning the design principles that might be in play in developing organisms. The model system of focus will be the fruit fly's wing, we we (in collaboration with the Carthew Lab @ NU) pursue a field-theoretic approach to studying the "response function" of the system in response to small, or linear, changes in the genome and environment that the system has evolved to cope with. The central result is an empirical, though still partial, delineation of the manifest degeneracies in the genotype to phenotype map, and an attempt to understand how living matter balances the apparent conflict between the requirements of a robust engineering protocol that permits its self assembly and the ability to evolve. The hope is that this attempt of ours opens up more questions, rather than give conclusive answers on any matter, yet.
CPBF an NSF PFC