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Bull Math Biol. 2009 Aug;71(6):1349-65. doi: 10.1007/s11538-009-9404-z. Epub 2009 Apr 1.

Degeneracy-driven self-structuring dynamics in selective repertoires.

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Department of Medicine and Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, MSTF 834, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA.


Numerous biological interactions, such as interactions between T cell receptors or antibodies with antigens, interactions between enzymes and substrates, or interactions between predators and prey are often not strictly specific. In such less specific, or "sloppy," systems, referred to here as degenerate systems, a given unit of a diverse resource (antigens, enzymatic substrates, prey) is at risk of being recognized and consumed by multiple consumers (lymphocytes, enzymes, predators). In this study, we model generalized degenerate consumer-resource systems of Lotka-Volterra and Verhulst types. In the degenerate systems of Lotka-Volterra, there is a continuum of types of consumer and resource based on variation of a single trait (characteristic, or preference). The consumers experience competition for a continuum of resource types. This non-local interaction system is modeled with partial differential-integral equations and shows spontaneous self-structuring of the consumer population that depends on the degree of interaction degeneracy between resource and consumer, but does not mirror the distribution of resource. We also show that the classical Verhulst (i.e. logistic) single population model can be generalized to a degenerate model, which shows qualitative behavior similar to that in the degenerate Lotka-Volterra model. These results provide better insight into the dynamics of selective systems in biology, suggesting that adaptation of degenerate repertoires is not a simple "mirroring" of the environment by the "fittest" elements of population.

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