Why isn't random variation always deleterious? Are there factors that sometimes make adaptation easier? Biological systems are extraordinarily robust to perturbation by mutations, recombination and the environment. It has been proposed that this robustness might make them more evolvable. Robustness to mutation allows genetic variation to accumulate in a cryptic state. Switching mechanisms known as evolutionary capacitors mean that the amount of heritable phenotypic variation available can be correlated to the degree of stress and hence to the novelty of the environment and remaining potential for adaptation. There have been two somewhat separate literatures relating robustness to evolvability. One has focused on molecular phenotypes and new mutations, the other on morphology and cryptic genetic variation. Here, we review both literatures, and show that the true distinction is whether recombination rates are high or low. In both cases, the evidence supports the claim that robustness promotes evolvability.
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