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Biochimie. 2015 Dec;119:254-61. doi: 10.1016/j.biochi.2014.10.019. Epub 2014 Oct 30.

Survival and innovation: The role of mutational robustness in evolution.

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Instituto de Biología Molecular y Celular de Plantas (CSIC-UPV), C/Ingeniero Fausto Elio, 46022 Valencia, Spain; Department of Genetics, Smurfit Institute of Genetics, University of Dublin, Trinity College Dublin, Lincoln Place, Dublin 2, Ireland. Electronic address:


Biological systems are resistant to perturbations caused by the environment and by the intrinsic noise of the system. Robustness to mutations is a particular aspect of robustness in which the phenotype is resistant to genotypic variation. Mutational robustness has been linked to the ability of the system to generate heritable genetic variation (a property known as evolvability). It is known that greater robustness leads to increased evolvability. Therefore, mechanisms that increase mutational robustness fuel evolvability. Two such mechanisms, molecular chaperones and gene duplication, have been credited with enormous importance in generating functional diversity through the increase of system's robustness to mutational insults. However, the way in which such mechanisms regulate robustness remains largely uncharacterized. In this review, I provide evidence in support of the role of molecular chaperones and gene duplication in innovation. Specifically, I present evidence that these mechanisms regulate robustness allowing unstable systems to survive long periods of time, and thus they provide opportunity for other mutations to compensate the destabilizing effects of functionally innovative mutations. The findings reported in this study set new questions with regards to the synergy between robustness mechanisms and how this synergy can alter the adaptive landscape of proteins. The ideas proposed in this article set the ground for future research in the understanding of the role of robustness in evolution.


Evolvability; Fitness landscapes; Functional innovation; Gene duplication; Molecular chaperones; Mutational robustness

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