Wednesday, January 18, 2006

A robust approach : Nature

Comparisons of planes and people in relation to robustness.

Nature 439, 19-20 (5 January 2006) doi:10.1038/439019a
A robust approach
Eörs Szathmáry
The functional overlap between different components protects biological systems.
BOOK REVIEWED - Robustness and Evolvability in Living Systems
by Andreas Wagner
When sitting on an aeroplane, we obviously hope that it won't crash. A tacit assumption behind this wish is that our biological system isn't about to crash either. It so happens that these systems share several features. Both have specific parts that serve certain functions. The plane was designed by engineers, who were in turn designed by evolution through natural selection. Both systems seem robust and yet fragile, but how can we reconcile these two seemingly opposing features? One answer is that they are robust and fragile to different perturbations, being particularly robust to perturbations that are common in their 'niche'. Another answer is that robustness can be in a trade-off with other features, such as price and reproduction rate...