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Biophys Chem. 1987 May 9;26(2-3):123-47.

A computer model of evolutionary optimization.


Molecular evolution is viewed as a typical combinatorial optimization problem. We analyse a chemical reaction model which considers RNA replication including correct copying and point mutations together with hydrolytic degradation and the dilution flux of a flow reactor. The corresponding stochastic reaction network is implemented on a computer in order to investigate some basic features of evolutionary optimization dynamics. Characteristic features of real molecular systems are mimicked by folding binary sequences into unknotted two-dimensional structures. Selective values are derived from these molecular 'phenotypes' by an evaluation procedure which assigns numerical values to different elements of the secondary structure. The fitness function obtained thereby contains nontrivial long-range interactions which are typical for real systems. The fitness landscape also reveals quite involved and bizarre local topologies which we consider also representative of polynucleotide replication in actually occurring systems. Optimization operates on an ensemble of sequences via mutation and natural selection. The strategy observed in the simulation experiments is fairly general and resembles closely a heuristic widely applied in operations research areas. Despite the relative smallness of the system--we study 2000 molecules of chain length v = 70 in a typical simulation experiment--features typical for the evolution of real populations are observed as there are error thresholds for replication, evolutionary steps and quasistationary sequence distributions. The relative importance of selectively neutral or almost neutral variants is discussed quantitatively. Four characteristic ensemble properties, entropy of the distribution, ensemble correlation, mean Hamming distance and diversity of the population, are computed and checked for their sensitivity in recording major optimization events during the simulation.

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