The researchers also used computer simulations to check their result under many alternative versions of the basic model. Although there is not yet sufficient data to test these theoretical results in nature, the authors simulated the evolution of RNA molecules, confirming that their theoretical results could predict the rate of adaptation.
"Biologists have long wondered how can organisms be robust and also adaptable," said Plotkin, assistant professor in the Department of Biology in Penn's School of Arts and Sciences. "After all, robust things don't change, so how can an organism be robust against mutation but also be prepared to adapt when the environment changes? It has always seemed like an enigma."
Robustness is a measure of how genetic mutations affect an organism's phenotype, or the set of physical traits, behaviors and features shaped by evolution. It would seem to be the opposite of evolvability, preventing a population from adapting to environmental change. In a robust individual, mutations are mostly neutral, meaning they have little effect on the phenotype. Since adaptation requires mutations with beneficial phenotypic effects, robust populations seem to be at a disadvantage. The Penn-led research team has demonstrated that this intuition is sometimes wrong.
|Contact: Jordan Reese|
University of Pennsylvania