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The role of robustness in phenotypic adaptation and innovation

Andreas Wagner
Proceedings: Biological Sciences
Vol. 279, No. 1732 (7 April 2012), pp. 1249-1258
Published by: Royal Society
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41549399
Page Count: 10
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The role of robustness in phenotypic adaptation and innovation
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Abstract

Phenotypes that vary in response to DNA mutations are essential for evolutionary adaptation and innovation. Therefore, it seems that robustness, a lack of phenotypic variability, must hinder adaptation. The main purpose of this review is to show why this is not necessarily correct. There are two reasons. The first is that robustness causes the existence of genotype networks—large connected sets of genotypes with the same phenotype. I discuss why genotype networks facilitate phenotypic variability. The second reason emerges from the evolutionary dynamics of evolving populations on genotype networks. I discuss how these dynamics can render highly robust phenotypes more variable, using examples from protein and RNA macromolecules. In addition, robustness can help avoid an important evolutionary conflict between the interests of individuals and populations—a conflict that can impede evolutionary adaptation.

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