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  1. Cellular fates are determined by genes interacting across large, complex biological networks. A critical question is how to identify causal relationships spanning distinct signaling pathways and underlying organismal phenotypes. Here, we address this question by constructing a Boolean model of a well-studied developmental network and analyzing information flows through the system. Depending on environmental signals Caenorhabditis elegans develop normally to sexual maturity or enter a reproductively delayed, developmentally quiescent ‘dauer’ state, progressing to maturity when the environment changes. The developmental network that starts with environmental signal and ends in the dauer/no dauer fate involves genes across 4 signaling pathways including cyclic GMP, Insulin/IGF-1, TGF- β and steroid hormone synthesis. We identified three stable motifs leading to normal development, each composed of genes interacting across the Insulin/IGF-1, TGF- β and steroid hormone synthesis pathways. Three genes known to influence dauer fate, daf-2 , daf-7 and hsf-1 , acted as driver nodes in the system. Using causal logic analysis, we identified a five gene cyclic subgraph integrating the information flow from environmental signal to dauer fate. Perturbation analysis showed that a multifactorial insulin profile determined the stable motifs the system entered and interacted with daf-12 as the switchpoint driving the dauer/no dauer fate. Our results show that complex organismal systems can be distilled into abstract representations that permit full characterization of the causal relationships driving developmental fates. Analyzing organismal systems from this perspective of logic and function has important implications for studies examining the evolution and conservation of signaling pathways. 
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