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Heredity (Edinb). 2008 Feb;100(2):132-40. Epub 2006 Dec 13.

Robustness and evolution: concepts, insights and challenges from a developmental model system.

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Institut Jacques Monod, CNRS-Universities of Paris 6/7, Paris, France.


Robustness, the persistence of an organismal trait under perturbations, is a ubiquitous property of complex living systems. We here discuss key concepts related to robustness with examples from vulva development in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. We emphasize the need to be clear about the perturbations a trait is (or is not) robust to. We discuss two prominent mechanistic causes of robustness, namely redundancy and distributed robustness. We also discuss possible evolutionary causes of robustness, one of which does not involve natural selection. To better understand robustness is of paramount importance for understanding organismal evolution. Part of the reason is that highly robust systems can accumulate cryptic variation that can serve as a source of new adaptations and evolutionary innovations. We point to some key challenges in improving our understanding of robustness.

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