Darwinism Evolution

Robustness and Evolvability in Living Systems (PUP, 2005)

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[From the 14Oct05 review in Science of Andreas Wagner’s new book:] Wagner does a wonderful job of outlining the parameters of the debate [over robustness, or how organisms achieve stability under perturbation]. He recognizes two basic difficulties. One is a catch-22: the more robust a system becomes, the less variable it is (by definition), and the less raw material there is available for selection to act on. A possible — but as yet unsubstantiated — solution to this dilemma is that environmental variation is always present. Thus, so long as selection acts to reduce environmental noise, genetic robustness might be expected to evolve in parallel. A more basic conundrum is that robustness must involve non-additive genetic interactions, but quantitative geneticists have—for the better part of a century—generally accepted that it is only the additive component of genetic variation that responds to selection. Consequently, we are faced with the observation that biological systems are pervasively robust but f ind it hard to explain exactly how they evolve to be that way. . . . Wagner contributes significantly to the emerging view that natural selection is just one, and maybe not even the most fundamental, source of biological order. His two-page epilogue throws out seven open questions for systems biologists and neo-Darwinians to consider; hopefully they will do so. MORE

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