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Bioessays. 2000 Dec;22(12):1095-105.

From genotype to phenotype: buffering mechanisms and the storage of genetic information.

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Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, 1100 Fairview Ave. N., Mail stop A2-168, Seattle, WA 98109-1024, USA.


DNA sequence variation is abundant in wild populations. While molecular biologists use genetically homogeneous strains of model organisms to avoid this variation, evolutionary biologists embrace genetic variation as the material of evolution since heritable differences in fitness drive evolutionary change. Yet, the relationship between the phenotypic variation affecting fitness and the genotypic variation producing it is complex. Genetic buffering mechanisms modify this relationship by concealing the effects of genetic and environmental variation on phenotype. Genetic buffering allows the build-up and storage of genetic variation in phenotypically normal populations. When buffering breaks down, thresholds governing the expression of previously silent variation are crossed. At these thresholds, phenotypic differences suddenly appear and are available for selection. Thus, buffering mechanisms modulate evolution and regulate a balance between evolutionary stasis and change. Recent work provides a glimpse of the molecular details governing some types of genetic buffering.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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