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Robustness and evolvability: a paradox resolved


Wagner, A (2008). Robustness and evolvability: a paradox resolved. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 275(1630):91-100.

Abstract

Understanding the relationship between robustness and evolvability is key to understand how living things can withstand mutations, while producing ample variation that leads to evolutionary innovations. Mutational robustness and evolvability, a system's ability to produce heritable variation, harbour a paradoxical tension. On one hand, high robustness implies low production of heritable phenotypic variation. On the other hand, both experimental and computational analyses of neutral networks indicate that robustness enhances evolvability. I here resolve this tension using RNA genotypes and their secondary structure phenotypes as a study system. To resolve the tension, one must distinguish between robustness of a genotype and a phenotype. I confirm that genotype (sequence) robustness and evolvability share an antagonistic relationship. In stark contrast, phenotype (structure) robustness promotes structure evolvability. A consequence is that finite populations of sequences with a robust phenotype can access large amounts of phenotypic variation while spreading through a neutral network. Population-level processes and phenotypes rather than individual sequences are key to understand the relationship between robustness and evolvability. My observations may apply to other genetic systems where many connected genotypes produce the same phenotypes.

Understanding the relationship between robustness and evolvability is key to understand how living things can withstand mutations, while producing ample variation that leads to evolutionary innovations. Mutational robustness and evolvability, a system's ability to produce heritable variation, harbour a paradoxical tension. On one hand, high robustness implies low production of heritable phenotypic variation. On the other hand, both experimental and computational analyses of neutral networks indicate that robustness enhances evolvability. I here resolve this tension using RNA genotypes and their secondary structure phenotypes as a study system. To resolve the tension, one must distinguish between robustness of a genotype and a phenotype. I confirm that genotype (sequence) robustness and evolvability share an antagonistic relationship. In stark contrast, phenotype (structure) robustness promotes structure evolvability. A consequence is that finite populations of sequences with a robust phenotype can access large amounts of phenotypic variation while spreading through a neutral network. Population-level processes and phenotypes rather than individual sequences are key to understand the relationship between robustness and evolvability. My observations may apply to other genetic systems where many connected genotypes produce the same phenotypes.

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223 citations in Web of Science®
236 citations in Scopus®
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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:04 Faculty of Medicine > Department of Biochemistry
07 Faculty of Science > Department of Biochemistry

Special Collections > SystemsX.ch
Special Collections > SystemsX.ch > Research, Technology and Development Projects > YeastX
Dewey Decimal Classification:570 Life sciences; biology
Language:English
Date:January 2008
Deposited On:22 Sep 2008 08:45
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 12:28
Publisher:Royal Society of London
ISSN:0962-8452
Publisher DOI:10.1098/rspb.2007.1137
PubMed ID:17971325
Permanent URL: http://doi.org/10.5167/uzh-3741

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