Evolutionary biologist Michael Lynch, of Indiana University Bloomington, has a new paper that has just been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), entitled “Evolutionary layering and the limits to cellular perfection.” From the abstract,
Although observations from biochemistry and cell biology seemingly illustrate hundreds of examples of exquisite molecular adaptations, the fact that experimental manipulation can often result in improvements in cellular infrastructure raises the question as to what ultimately limits the level of molecular perfection achievable by natural selection. Here, it is argued that random genetic drift can impose a strong barrier to the advancement of molecular refinements by adaptive processes. Moreover, although substantial improvements in fitness may sometimes be accomplished via the emergence of novel cellular features that improve on previously established mechanisms, such advances are expected to often be transient, with overall fitness eventually returning to the level before incorporation of the genetic novelty. As a consequence of such changes, increased molecular/cellular complexity can arise by Darwinian processes, while yielding no long-term increase in adaptation and imposing increased energetic and mutational costs.