Phase transitions in gene networks evolved under different selection rules
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Mathematical models of gene regulation are a powerful tool for understanding the complex features of genetic control. While various modeling efforts have been successful at explaining gene expression dynamics, much less is known about how evolution shapes the structure of these networks. An important feature of gene regulatory networks is their stability in response to environmental perturbations. Regulatory systems are thought to have evolved to exist near the transition between stability and instability, in order to have the required stability to environmental fluctuations while also being able to achieve a wide variety of functions (corresponding to different dynamical patterns). We study a simplified model of gene network evolution in which links are added via different selection rules. These growth models are inspired by recent work on `explosive' percolation which shows that when network links are added through competitive rather than random processes, the connectivity phase transition can be significantly delayed, and when it is reached, it appears to be first order (discontinuous, e.g., going from no failure at all to large expected failure) instead of second order (continuous, e.g., going from no failure at all to very small expected failure). We find that by modifying the traditional framework for networks grown via competitive link addition to capture how gene networks evolve to avoid damage propagation, we also see significant delays in the transition that depend on the selection rules, but the transitions always appear continuous rather than `explosive'.